You can call Houston Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas a lot of things.
You can call him hard working.
You can call him tenacious.
You can call him humble.
What you can’t call the young Colombian – no matter how much he has taken American soccer fans by surprise with his 2018 superlative MLS and Open Cup campaign – is an overnight sensation.
Manotas has been in Houston since 2015, fighting to make it onto the bench, and then finally forcing his way into the starting lineup this season.
Mauro Manotas of the Housotn Dynamo celebrates one of his two goals against the Philadelphia Union in the 2018 US Open Cup Final. Photo: Houston Dynamo
“I have been with this club for the last three years and I haven’t been able to be starting forward. By now, thank God, I have become a starting player,” said Manotas in an interview with the Dynamo in July translated from Spanish. “Now, I want to be a top goal scorer and on the team level, I want us to win the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup.”
Manotas will have to wait for that MLS Cup dream as the Dynamo were eliminated from the playoffs this season but he can check “top goalscorer” and “winning US Open Cup” off his to-do list.
For his record-breaking run, Manotas has been named the TheCup.us Player of the Tournament in a vote of the staff of TheCup.us and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters. Manotas ran away with the award, distancing himself from second place Alejandro Bedoya of the Philadelphia Union and third place Diego Rossi of Los Angeles FC.
“Like I’ve always said, when you pray with faith, God rewards you,” explained the ever humble Manotas after the US Open Cup trophy was hoisted at BBVA Compass Stadium back on Sept. 26. “Today, I give thanks to God. The team was spectacular. Thanks to God we were able to win.”
The 23-year-old striker put his mark on the title game early, scoring off a header in the fourth minute, tying the mark for the fastest goal in a championship game in the Modern Era. He followed up with a goal in the 26th minute, on an individual effort that will sure to be shown on the home scoreboard highlight reel for years to come.
The Open Cup celebration was the culmination of an incredible year for the wiry 6-footer who in a rainstorm still weighs under 160 pounds.
Ran away with the Golden Boot for the tournament with his two title game goals, giving him six total in 2018, tying a Modern Era single-tournament record.
He has tied the Modern Era record for scoring in four consecutive Open Cup contests.
He now has five game-winning goals in US Open Cup play, tying a Modern Era record.
He is the Dynamo’s all-time US Open Cup scoring leader with 10 goals, six more than the next best.
Only two MLS squad players (Kenny Cooper and Jaime Moreno, each with 13) have scored more goals than Manotas in US Open Cup play.
The achievements for Manotas aren’t just limited to the Open Cup competition as he has rewritten the Dynamo record books in his first full season as a starter:
He has 22 goals in all competitions this year, lapping Will Bruin’s previous club record of 16 with two matches left to play.
He has scored 16 MLS regular-season goals, eclipsing the club record of 14 set last year by Cubo Torres, whose departure thrusted Manotas into the spotlight.
At age 23 he is already the Houston franchise’s No. 5 all-time leading scorer with 31 goals in 94 games (61 starts).
You will be disappointed if you expect Manotas to now rest on his laurels.
“I have fought a lot to be the starting forward for this team,” said Manotas. “My mentality is to keep working hard, leave everything on the field, give my all for the team, to sweat for this team like I always do. People always value the fact that I don’t give up, that I am always running, fighting for the ball and scoring goals.”
Mauro Manotas of the Houston Dynamo heads in the first goal of the 2018 US Open Cup Final from his knees in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union. Photo: Houston Dynamo
Manotas has been helped by a close connection with Colombian coach Wilmer Cabrera, who Manotas calls “El Profe” or teacher.
2018’s amazing run may not have happened if the front office hadn’t stepped in and lend a helping hand to Manotas when he arrived in Southern Texas in 2015.
The young kid from Sabanalarga, Colombia was given a place to live but he lasted just two weeks on his own away from the support of his family and culture.
“When I arrived in Houston … I lived by myself for two weeks but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live alone,” recalled Manotas. “I reached out to (Houston GM) Matt (Jordan) to find me a host family. And thank God he found them.”
That host family, bilingual Chavez family, became Manotas’ family away from home.
“He called my wife madre, mother. He’d call me Senor Ed,” said Ed Chavez, who works matchday security at BBVA outside of the Dynamo locker room. “Definitely an addition to the family – a son.”
Ed and Ingrid Chavez already had two teens and Manotas became their older surrogate sibling … the relationship so strong that Manotas stayed with the family through 2015 and then 2016 and then 2017 … finally, moving into his own apartment this summer.
“They helped me get adapted to the country, to the language, the culture, the food, everything,” said Manotas right before the big move. “I had a great time with the Chavez family but now it’s time for me to grow in that area of my life. I feel I’ve got a better grasp of the language now and I wanted to go out and be on my own.”
Manotas may be heading out on his own but will still be looking out for others first, it’s an attitude that was ingrained from his modest means upbringing in Colombia.
“My family is very humble, always thinking of others first,” Manotas said. “My dad always tells me that the team is first, second, third and fourth, and if there’s a fifth, then that’s for me.”
Thanks to that attitude the Houston Dynamo are 2018 US Open Cup champions and headed to the Concacaf Champions League next year. It will be another chance for Manotasto shine in the spotlight.