HOUSTON — This is a milestone summer for Mauro Manotas, and not only because he’s emerging as one of the most prolific scorers in MLS.
The Houston Dynamo striker moved into his own apartment a month ago, bringing to an end an unusual living arrangement that’s credited with helping him find his feet in Texas — and ultimately, his scoring touch in MLS.
Before signing Manotas from Colombian side Uniautonoma in 2015, senior vice president and general manager Matt Jordan promised the teenager’s parents that he would help the kid from northern Colombia settle in a big city in a faraway country.
“I personally gave my word that we would make sure that we would help him adapt and make sure he was taken care of, leaving home at such a young age,” Jordan said.
It’s common for young players to live together and for a club to connect them with other immigrants to offer tips and support — as in the case of recent Dynamo signing Adam Lundkvist, who was put in contact with a Swedish family in Houston.
But Jordan — mindful of the challenges he faced as a young goalkeeper who moved from Dallas to Denmark in 2003 — went farther. Since they lived nearby, he often drove Manotas to training. Most importantly, Jordan placed him with a host family. That happens at the academy level, but is rare in MLS.
“As a player, when you’re going into a new environment at such a young age, having that support system is vitally important and I think it’s played a huge part in his adaptation here in Houston, to our club, and ultimately to our performances on the field,” Jordan said.
No other Dynamo player is currently with a host family, but head coach Wilmer Cabrera knows that it’s essential for his players to feel comfortable off the field, especially as Houston forge an increasingly multi-national, multi-lingual identity. About half of the roster is foreign-born — a contrast from five years ago, when less than a third of the squad hailed from overseas and only two did not speak English as their first language.
“We’re trying to be cautious about getting the players and identifying the environment, the family aspect, and being sure that they can deal with all these situations off the field,” he said. “He arrived young, he was a teenager, but he’s been very professional, learning, working hard and adapting.”
Jordan found ideal hosts for Manotas in Ed and Ingrid Chavez, bilingual parents of two teenage kids. “He called my wife madre, mother. He’d call me Señor Ed,” Chavez said. “Definitely an addition to the family — a son.”
For years, Ed Chavez has worked matchday security at BBVA Compass Stadium, where he’s stationed outside the home locker room. He’s a familiar face in the stadium and a reliably supportive voice when they drove home together after games.
“We adjusted to him and he adjusted to us, it worked out good and he’s grown a lot, mentally and physically. At that age, coming from another country, you need support,” Chavez said, taking pride as Manotas blossomed from a kid who was baffled by a drive-through car wash and frozen by Houston’s ubiquitous air conditioning to an independent young man who became a regular starter last year.
“They helped me get adapted to the country, to the language, the culture, the food, everything,” Manotas, who turned 23 this month, said through a translator. “I had a great time with the Chavez family but now it’s time for me to grow in that area of my life, I feel I’ve got a better grasp of the language now and I wanted to go out and be on my own.”
Cabrera needed Manotas to deliver mature performances after the January exit of Erick “Cubo” Torres, who broke Brian Ching’s club MLS single-season scoring record with 14 goals in 2017 as the Dynamo made a surprise run to the Western Conference Championship.
Houston lost 3-1 to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, a rare home setback that leaves Cabrera’s men with plenty to do if they’re to reach the playoffs again. They visit Portland on Saturday (11 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info).
The bright spot was yet another goal from Manotas — the sixth in his past seven MLS appearances, taking him to 11 for the season - one more than his total last year and just three behind Torres’ record with 14 fixtures remaining.
Lithe and composed in front of goal, Manotas has also found the net three times in the U.S. Open Cup, leaving him poised to overtake ex-Dynamo striker Will Bruin (16 goals in 2012 including the postseason) as the franchise’s record single-season scorer in all competitions.
“It’s something that I set myself at the beginning of the season and now that I have broken my personal record I’m going for the single-season for the team and once I get to that to that point I’m going for the all-competitions team record,” he said.
His mother was at the stadium on Wednesday on one of her twice-yearly trips to Texas. When will his other relatives be in town? If Manotas keeps scoring at this rate, he’s likely to see them in the fall.
“The rest of the family will come if we make it to the playoffs,” he said.