HOUSTON – Major League Soccer, meet Mauro Manotas.
The Houston Dynamo striker has been in MLS for over a year now, but he truly "arrived" on Saturday. The 21-year-old Colombian cemented his name in Dynamo folklore with Saturday’s hat trick, the sixth in club history and first since 2011, en route to a 3-1 victory over the Portland Timbers.
“I’m very happy and glad to add my name to that list,” Manotas told reporters postgame via translator. “I came with the mentality to be a goalscorer and to win titles with the Dynamo.”
Manotas was asked if Saturday marked a breakthrough moment in his MLS career.
“I would say so,” he said. “I’m grateful that coach [Wade Barrett] has given me this opportunity. He wants me to do my job and have fun doing it.”
While many around the league may just be getting to know Manotas, Barrett said he knew it was only a matter of time.
“Not something that I’m surprised at,” said the Dynamo's interim head coach of his striker’s performance. “Mauro has shown over a number of games that he puts himself in dangerous positions all the time, so [I'm] not surprised that the goals happened tonight.”
The performance was a long time coming for Manotas. Under former Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle, he rode the bench behind Bruin and Erick "Cubo" Torres, but Barrett has handed Manotas the reins, starting him six of Houston's last seven matches.
His first goal on Saturday was a penalty kick – the first spot kick of the year for Houston – and just before his conversion attempt, some of the Timbers' defenders tried to rattle the young striker, to no avail.
“To be honest, I didn’t understand what was said,” said Manotas with a laugh. “It was in English. That, and I was focused on the penalty kick.”
Manotas’ performance comes on the heels of MLSsoccer's release of the 2016 edition of the 24 Under 24 presented by EA SPORTS, the ranking of the top young players in the league, and Manotas was nowhere to be found on the list. He didn't even make the preliminary cut of 50 finalists.
The omission irked Barrett.
“I’m a little disappointed that he [Manotas] didn’t get the recognition,” Barrett said. “But all the same, Mauro just scored three goals tonight against the reigning MLS champs, so I think that says enough right there.”