As far as debuts go, entering the field a man down, trailing 2-0 in oppressive Orlando heat is about as difficult as they get.
It wasn't exactly how US youth national team standout Kevin Paredes imagined it, including the fact that it was at a neutral venue without fans. But the 17-year-old wasn't about to let the moment or the conditions get the better of him as he made his way onto the field for D.C. United for his MLS debut against Toronto FC.
"This is something I’ve dreamed of, I didn’t let any nerves get to me," Paredes told reporters on a video conference call this week. "I knew I prepared all my life for this. Getting onto the field, I felt like I was ready. I felt like I could play with these guys. I guess it showed a little bit.”
Paredes was given the final 32 minutes to help spark the unlikeliest of comebacks and that's exactly what they did. United stormed back to engineer a 2-2 draw against Toronto, the first team since at least 2007 to rescue a point under those circumstances.
“He was great, he came in and helped the team," defender Frederic Brilliant said. Brilliant scored the game-tying goal in stoppage time. "He’s a good kid, he did very well and I’m so proud of him.”
Paredes is one of three teenage Homegrown prospects in the first team that the club have high hopes for.
He, Griffin Yow and Moses Nyeman have all excelled in both the academy ranks and with the US youth national team and earned their way to the D.C. first team. Paredes was the lone member of that trio to have came off the bench in their first game at the MLS is Back Tournament.
"We’re really fortunate that right now we have three young players that are extremely talented and showing that they’re ready to go," head coach Ben Olsen said. "Kevin has showed that more than the other three.”
Olsen's belief in youth, as well as the temporary five substitution rule for the rest of the season, should provide ample chances to those teenagers this month and beyond.
“We’re always going to play guys who deserve to be on the field," Olsen said. "If a young guy is showing promise and that he’s ready to play, he’ll play. We’ve always done that.”