Excitement filled the room at L&F Distributors, May 14, as 13 members of the Houston Dynamo South Texas Soccer Academy signed letters of intent to play college soccer. Three additional members of the team have college offers but remain undecided.

The Houston Dynamo organization, in conjunction with McAllen Youth Soccer Association (MYSA), formed the Houston Dynamo South Texas Soccer Academy in September of 2007. There are only two such academies, the other, Dynamo Academy in Houston.

According to a press release issued in 2007, the mission of the Academy is threefold: 1) to strongly impact soccer in South Texas; 2) to provide greater developmental opportunities; and 3) to identify professional prospects.

Only the elite soccer players in the Rio Grande Valley are chosen for this team, coached by Gary Hamilton, who is assisted by Albert Flores. Hamilton, born in Scotland, became a professional soccer player at 17. He played in 270 games in England’s top-flight league. The Middlesbrough Football Club voted him one of its top 50 players of the past century.

Top soccer players from across the Valley attend Dynamo Academy training sessions for try-outs and are selected if they prove to be among the top tier of Valley athletes. Practices are held throughout the Valley because team members hail from Harlingen, Brownsville, Los Fresnos, McAllen, Mission and several cities in-between.

Mario Perez is one of those players. A senior at Porter High School in Brownsville, Mario signed to play at UTB/TSC Brownsville. In 2006, Mario and his teammates at Porter captured the state championship. This elite athlete has played soccer in Argentina and Spain and throughout Mexico and the United States. Perez plans to attend UTB/TSC for one year and then transfer to Southern Methodist University or another Division I school. He will major in radiology.

“The Dynamo South Texas Soccer Academy has offered me a lot of opportunities to work toward my dream of playing professional soccer,” Perez said. “The team has provided me with a lot of experience. It is really an elite team with the best players in the Valley and the best coaches in all of Texas.”

Two other Dynamo players signed with UTB/TSC, Zack Gorman from Harlingen High School and Adrian Gomez from Harlingen South.

Chris Tippit, a senior at McAllen Memorial High School, signed to play with the University of Central Arkansas, a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I school. Tippit and his Dynamo teammates spend 6-7 hours per week playing soccer.

“I realize all of the possibilities I have playing soccer,” Tippit said. His ultimate goal is to play professionally. Like Perez, Tippit has reaped the benefits of playing for the Dynamo organization. “The greatest benefit has been the exposure to college teams and college coaches while training in a professional environment.”

Raul Orozco from St. John’s in Brownsville will join Tippit at UCA.

Another Dynamo player who signed to play Division I soccer is Emilio Dominguez, a senior at Harlingen South. He is headed to Santa Clara, California to play at Santa Clara University.

Five Dynamo teammates will play for Our Lady of the Lake, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) team. They are Luis Mancilla and Gerardo Marquez from Brownsville’s Hanna High School, Octavio Herrera from Harlingen High, and Aaron Acevedo and Jesus Martinez from McAllen Memorial.

Four teachers representing Memorial’s Spanish Honor Society presented Jesus with an additional check to be used toward college.

The soccer coach at Our Lady of the Lake, Shane Hurley, attended the signing at L&F. “This is important to the kids,” he said. “We are making a commitment to the kids, and we think it’s important to be here tonight to show our commitment.”

Hurley is impressed by the caliber of players coming out of the Rio Grande Valley’s Dynamo team. “It is awesome to see what Dynamo is doing in what was once a void, the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “I went to visit one of Gary’s training sessions. He is the first coach I have ever known to come to this area and to train a team that qualifies to play in the Dallas Cup.”

The Dallas Cup is considered the most prestigious youth soccer tournament in the world, according to Hamilton, and his team was the first Valley team ever to qualify to compete. Their great adventure to the Dallas Cup occurred last month and proved to be a valuable experience.

“There were about 186 teams from around the world,” Hamilton said.

Rounding out the group of players to sign letters of intent were Israel Nava from Mission Veterans High School and Alfonso Magana from Los Fresnos. Both athletes will play for San Jacinto Junior College.

The three Dynamo players who have received college scholarship offers but who remain undecided are Michael Cedillo from Porter, Sergio Perez from Mission Veterans and Guillermo Lozano from Sharyland High School.

Sergio Perez also plans to major in radiology. Perez said he plays soccer because it is the only sport his family members have ever played, and he credits Coach Hamilton with helping him develop into an elite player. “He has taught me how to improve my soccer abilities,” he said. “He has pushed and encouraged me. He has also taught me many funny things in life.”

Hamilton beamed as he recognized the 16 players decked out in Dynamo jerseys seated before him at the group signing session. “This is the first time in the Valley that 16 athletes from one group have gathered to sign letters of intent,” he said.

Sixteen student-athletes have already made a mark in the Rio Grande Valley, and their journey has only begun.