Over 500 players from 24 countries are taking part in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea this summer — and UNM's Aaron Herrera was lucky enough to be selected to participate.
Herrera, a defender for the UNM men’s soccer team, has been working with the U.S. National Team for a while. His latest achievement happened only a few months ago when he was part of the roster that took the United States’ first CONCACAF title at the U-20 level by taking down the Honduras’ team 5-3 on penalty kicks.
“It was just crazy being the first team to ever do it,” said the Las Cruces native. “There are so many great players that have been through the U-20 who are playing on the full national team now that also went through the same experience we did. None of them ever won it, so knowing that our team was the first to win it is kind of crazy.”
Herrera was injured during the tournament, so he did not see as much playing time as he probably would have liked. However, he said the experience was still extremely valuable.
He is pursuing a degree in exercise science and decided to take all online classes this semester in order to have more time for soccer-related trips like these — the event took place in Costa Rica between Feb 17 and March 5, which does not exactly overlap an official school break.
The Lobo bench rushes the field and erupts in excitement after Aaron Herreras goal in the second half on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 at the UNM Soccer Complex. The Lobos beat LMU 3-0 on Tuesday night, improving to 7-3 on the season.
“It’s kind of just staying disciplined to keep up with all of that,” Herrera said. “And knowing you have to do your stuff, even when your roommate is sleeping you have to stay up and do homework.”
The semester is over, but work for the U-20 National Team, led by head coach Tab Ramos, has just begun. The U-20 World Cup kicks off on May 20, and preparations are already underway. There will be a total of 52 matches played to determine who will take home the trophy.
Last week, Herrera took to Twitter to announce he was heading off to Japan and then South Korea, saying he felt “blessed for the opportunity.” One of these supporters was Diego Herrera, Aaron Herrera’s father.
Like many other proud fathers, Diego Herrera frequently shares his son’s achievements online.
“My dad is pretty active on social media, because he works for Herbalife, so he is always trying to motivate people,” the young soccer player said. “He’s definitely more of the one who was always pushing me to go as far as I can playing soccer, ever since I was little.”
Herrera said his mom is not as active on social media but both parents show a lot of support while also trying to not hype him up too much.
Staying grounded shouldn’t be too difficult, Herrera said, explaining that being with the national team is something that always requires a lot of hard work.
“You have to be good everyday, because you are only together for a short amount of time,” he said during an interview after returning from Costa Rica. “You can’t really afford to take any days off and not be at your best. Whenever you get really competitive like that, it can get pretty tough.”
The U.S. is part of Group F, along with Ecuador, Saudi Arabia and Senegal. The team will play its first match on May 22 against Ecuador. The full schedule for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup can be found here.
Isabel Gonzalez is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She mainly covers men’s soccer and basketball. She can be reached at sports @dailylobo.com or on Twitter @cisabelg.