GUADALAJARA, Mexico – One day, the US national team may just thank goalkeeper Kevin Piedrahita’s parents for whisking him away from Miami and back to their native Colombia when he was eight years old.
“I didn’t do any sports in the United States, absolutely nothing,” the 20-year-old Piedrahita told MLSsoccer.com via Skype from Colombia this week. “It was all baseball and American football. When I came here, it was in school I started playing soccer.”
The US Under-20 goalkeeper hasn’t looked back since and has already been with one of Colombia’s most popular clubs, América de Cali, for 11 years, working his way up gradually through the youth systems and catching the eye of both Colombia and United States youth teams.
“My dad got me motivated,” he explained. “He told me he’d put me in América and the process started like that, little by little. Now here I am, smiling.”
Piedrahita was born in Queens, N.Y., but left with his family when he was an infant to live in Miami. His parents had been in the United States almost 18 years before his father’s mini-vacation 12 years ago turned into something more permanent and the family moved back to Cali.
The young goalkeeper, currently third choice for los Diablos Rojos behind Colombian Julian Viáfara and American Diego Restrepo, has appeared on the bench this season and has made the occasional appearance in Copa Colombia games.
“Here, they have big plans for me," he said. "I’m considered a homegrown talent and I’m just waiting for the opportunity."
An América de Cali fan since birth thanks to his father, Piedrahita also would like to try his hand in MLS one day.
“One day, I could return there,” he smiled. “I love the idea of MLS and how it has improved so much and strengthened to a world standard. I would love to be in the United States playing with an MLS team, but at the moment, it’s all about acquiring experience.”
The only time Piedrahita played in the United States came last December, when he was called up for a US Under-20 training camp and went 90 minutes without conceding in a friendly against Canada in South Florida.
“It was a surprise," he explained of that call-up by former U-20 coach Thomas Rongen. "They called me and told me that they wanted to see me. I was a pleasure because the (Colombian) national team here hadn’t called me up for a while. I had visualized myself in the World Cup U-20 that took place [in Colombia].”
Piedrahita says he adapted well to the different kind of goalkeeper training he experienced with the US U-20s and adds that his English came back to him after a few days back in his native land.
“I went to a bilingual school here in Colombia after I did up to second grade in the US, but obviously my English wasn’t as fluent as someone over there,” he recalled. “You lose the fluency and the accent, but you don’t stop understanding.”
Piedrahita adds that he paid attention and listened to fellow US U-20 and now Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to see how he talked and cajoled the defenders.
The amiable young stopper says he would love to return to the US setup, but won’t shut the door on Colombia either.
“I will be ready to defend the colors of the nation, whichever calls,” he said. “The United States was the country I was born in and where I grew up until I was eight. Obviously, Colombia has given me a lot, too, and almost all my family is from Colombia.”
An additional plus for Piedrahita has been coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments that the net needs to be spread wide in the search for top national-team talent.
“They are very good, excellent,” he enthused. “The profe [Klinsmann] has a lot of experience in Europe and knows what he is doing. It is very important that he looks not only strictly to Europe, but also to the domestic league the United States and also in Latin America, because they could lose a lot of talent and a lot of good players.”
Piedrahita is hoping he won’t be one to slip through their fingers.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter: @mexicoworldcup