HANOVER, N.J. – Steven Ortiz was unsure that his name would be called on Sunday, just as unsure as he was a few years ago as to whether he would ever play soccer again.
Ortiz - a 14-year-old goalkeeper from Linden, New Jersey, about 15 miles south of Red Bull Arena - was one of six finalists from the New York Red Bulls’ 2014 Sueño MLS tryouts this past weekend. But his road to get there was anything but ordinary, as Ortiz initially quit playing soccer when he was younger after a coach told him he was not meant to play goalkeeper.
That statement dispirited Ortiz so much that he turned his complete attention to basketball, thinking he would probably never play soccer again. His father – a former professional defender for Deportivo Cali in Colombia – refused to give up on the notion that his son was not meant for soccer and put Ortiz back on the soccer path when he signed him up for a club team a few years later.
Ortiz - born in Cali, Colombia before moving to the United States when he was four - is more than thankful it played out that way.
“I just felt so happy because then my mom called my dad and my dad put the TV on and he watched it,” Ortiz told MLSsoccer.com of the announcement that came live on Univision’s Republica Deportiva. “My dad played professional, so he wants me in his same footsteps – so he gets really happy.”
Probably not as happy as Ortiz was. While the youngster, who lists Iker Casillas as his favorite player, had obvious nerves while being interviewed on Sunday, he could not stop smiling. He had doubts whether he would be the sole goalkeeper chosen from the pool of three that made it to Day 2 of New York’s tryouts, especially since he was the only one to get scored on – twice – in Sunday’s 60-minute game.
“I just got my head up and keep going, because if you put your head down, they’re like, 'That goalie, you can’t trust on him in a hard game,'” said Ortiz, who asked friend and 2013 Sueño MLS winner Alexander Soto for advice prior to this year’s competition. “I just kept my head up and when they called me, it was amazing.”
A day earlier, Ortiz showed that same type of resilience when he stepped in for an impromptu second appearance during the opening round of tryouts. After a fellow hopeful went down with an injury, the Red Bulls staff looked for a replacement from the group of goalkeepers that had already played.
Ortiz jumped at the opportunity, once again showing his skills and impressing New York’s scouts.
“He is a local player, he’s got good size, he’s young … so he’s got the ability to improve and to move forward,” said Red Bulls director of youth programs Bob Montgomery after Day 2’s game. “He’s somebody that we actually liked yesterday, and if the [goalkeeping staff hadn’t picked him], we would’ve brought him back to look at him further anyway. We’re excited about that.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.