Colorado Rapids' Dillon Serna amped to open US Olympic chase on home soil: "We have to qualify"

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The game of soccer has enabled Colorado Rapids midfielder Dillon Serna to see the world and do things he’d never imagined. But the journey has always found its way back to Colorado.

It’s where Serna will find himself yet again, playing with the US U-23 national team as it embarks on its CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying campaign. Serna will be playing in front of his hometown crowd when Dick’s Sporting Goods Park hosts all eight teams on the third group-stage matchday on October 6 and 7.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Serna told MLSsoccer.com. “I think it’s going to be one of the more fun games I’ve played here in my home stadium. My family hasn’t really seen me play with the national team because I’m not usually [in Colorado].”

It will be the second time Serna has played in Colorado this year not wearing the burgundy and white of the Rapids. Serna previously played in an exhibition match at DSGP, representing the MLS Homegrowns against Club América's U-20 team in the 2015 MLS Homegrown Game.

But with an Olympic berth on the line, the upcoming games with the U-23s will have a different vibe.

“This is huge,” Serna expressed. “The Olympic team didn’t qualify last Olympics, so there’s definitely that added pressure on us to qualify. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we have to qualify.”

Serna’s family and local fans will also have to adjust to finding him in a different area on the pitch. With the U-23s, Serna has been playing a more defensive role at left back under US head coach Andi Herzog.

“He knows I’m not naturally a defender, but he’s shown his trust in me this whole year,” Serna explained. “It is a little bit different. Andi likes to see me getting forward, so that’s something I bring to the team playing left back.”

Serna described the change in positioning as “a learning process,” but his willingness to expand his breadth of knowledge has also been noted by Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni.

“It will definitely broaden his perspective. When he plays with us, it will help him press the game and understand what pockets to find,” Mastroeni said. “Left back isn’t our position of need, but that type of experience is extremely valuable. His ability to work on both sides of the ball is extremely critical at this part of the season.”

Serna remains one of the youngest players on a Colorado side which features a glut of veteran additions for 2015. But the 21-year-old feels more vet than novice in the Rapids locker room.

“I’ve been training with the first team since I was in high school and this is now my third year under contract,” he explained. “I do feel like I’ve been here a while and have some experience. At the same time, I’m still learning and willing to learn every day.”

Serna’s work rate has appeared to gain Mastroeni's confidence, as his club coach has rewarded the Homegrown with more consistent minutes in the latter half of Colorado’s 2015 campaign.

“He’s one piece to the greater whole,” Mastroeni said. “I think he understands what we want to do from a tactical perspective and has been working extremely hard when he hasn’t been selected.”

He’s also been praised as “goal dangerous and hungry,” which has also aided the homegrown’s cause in cracking Mastroeni’s lineup.

“I think I’m the kind of player that likes to be in front of goal,” Serna said. “I’ve played a good amount this year and I’ve scored a few goals, so that’s the biggest thing for the coaches.”

And despite being a regular on Herzog’s squad, Serna isn’t taking his opportunity with the U-23s for granted either.

“It’s always special to go with the national team,” he said. “It’s definitely an honor and I’m looking forward to getting into games.”

Stay connected: The all-new, completely redesigned, FREE official MLS app is your best mobile source for scores, news, analysis and highlights. Download:  App Store  |  Google Play