GUADALAJARA, Mexico – You probably haven’t heard of 19-year-old goalkeeper Bernie Magaña, even though the Southern Californian has already made his debut for Mexican giants Pumas UNAM.
That’s probably because Magaña has been off the US domestic radar since the tender age of 15, when he packed his bags and headed south to join the Mexico City giants without a second thought.
“Soccer was my life,” the young goalkeeper explained recently to MLSsoccer.com via phone from Mexico City. “I just thought of my dream, I want to be here and I’m willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to make it to the first division.”
Magaña has risen through the Pumas ranks since joining the club in 2008, first with the Under-17s and then as the No. 1 for the U-20s during the past 12 months.
Then on Sept. 19, Magaña was faced with perhaps the biggest test yet in his nascent career when he started and completed the 90 minutes in Pumas’ 2-1 loss at Club Tijuana in the Copa MX.
The 6-foot-2 ‘keeper was happy with his performance, if not the result, especially as it came in front of his parents, who traveled down from Ventura, Calif., for the game.
“I was honestly a little nervous, but I had fun,” he said. “It was everything I expected and my family was there to watch me debut, so it was perfect.”
Coaches at Pumas told him he performed well and it seems he is held in high regard at the club that has the reputation as having one of, if not the, best youth systems in Mexico.
Starting next season, Magaña will be training with the first-team squad full time and is now the third-choice netminder. Not bad for a 19-year-old.
Magaña cites former Mexico national team ‘keeper Oswaldo Sánchez as his main inspiration and said he got hooked on Mexican soccer by watching games every Sunday, without fail, with his family.
That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t play for the United States, although he says he hasn’t heard anything from US Soccer, while he has participated in one Mexico national team camp. After all, Magaña’s path down to Mexico came via Pumas’ development academy in San Bernardino, Calif.
Run by former Pumas player José Santana, the Pumas Academy was set up in 2006 and has so far taken more than 30 players to the university team for tryouts, although Magaña has been the only one to stay on and sign with the club.
One of the directors at the Pumas Academy, Omar Santana, said the first time they knew Magaña would become a top ‘keeper was during his first tournament with Pumas UNAM at the Dallas Cup, before he had signed for the club.
“Bernie was supposed to join the Pumas squad as a second goalie and possibly not see much playing time,” Santana told MLSsoccer.com from California. “However, he received his first opportunity during the second half of the first game. His performance was astonishing for a goalie that had never played at that level.”
Santana describes Magaña as a “down to earth, humble and persistent” individual, and he’s likely to need to call on those qualities in the coming years.
Pumas tend to stick with goalkeepers. Sergio Bernal debuted in 1989 before retiring in 2010 to be replaced by the patient Miguel Palacios, who has kept his place despite calls for a change between the pipes.
The upside for Magaña, who is likely to feature at some point in next season’s Copa MX, is that he is in the right place and seems to be doing all the necessary things to be given a shot at making that spot his own in coming years.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.