NYCFC defender Rónald Matarrita is living out his dreams, following in the footsteps of fellow Tico futbolistas Keylor Navas and Joel Campbell.
The 21-year-old star, new to the MLS after making a move from one of Costa Rica’s top two teams in January, senses new opportunity and excitement in the Costa Rican game in the aftermath of the national team’s eighth-place finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It’s a change exemplified by the exceptional play of Real Madrid’s man between the posts, Keylor Navas, and Arsenal attacker Joel Campbell.
For Matarrita, Navas and Campbell serve as signposts; proof of what’s possible over the course of his career, and symbols of the distance he can travel in pursuit of his dreams.
What is his dream exactly? Reaching the pinnacle – European fútbol – using the MLS as a trampoline of sorts.
“Navas is an inspiration, an example of an incredible goalkeeper. He has worked hard to be where he is, and has won the respect of difficult and demanding fans like the ones at Real Madrid. I hope I can do the same some day,” Matarrita told me during an interview at NYCFC Media Day.
We hope he can too, and if the early stages of his career are any indication, it seems more than likely that he’ll be able to make his mark in Europe some day. Matarrita’s skills have already earned him a starting spot with the national team, lest we forget (remember Costa Rica’s 1-0 friendly loss vs. Brazil at Red Bull Arena last September?).
“I am very proud of being Tico, and representing Tico soccer; I did it at every level – at the Under-17s and Under-20s.”
Matarrita – like all Tico fans and futbolistas – finds great enjoyment in watching his countrymen compete and succeed abroad. This satisfaction isn’t exclusive to Navas and Campbell; national team captain Bryan Ruiz (currently with Sporting CP in Portugal) has been equally prolific.
“When I see them, I get an immediate desire to work harder to accomplish my dreams and goals of someday playing in Europe,” he explained.
For the promising youngster, a move to MLS seemed like the best option in pursuit of this dream. In addition to being a very competitive league, he chose the MLS over Liga MX and smaller European clubs with the knowledge that he would have a chance to share a locker room with legends like David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo. Being coached by Patrick Vieira definitely doesn’t hurt either.
“Above all else, I want to give it my all so that I can satisfy the coach and the fans who have made their presence known very quickly. After that we’ll see, but for now I’m simply enjoying myself.”
The biggest advice that he has received from experienced veterans like Villa is “not attempting things on the field that I don’t know how to do. They want me to do what I know. They inspire me to flow naturally on the field, to loosen up and be myself.”
He’s being himself alright – thriving as an unquestionable starter in Vieira’s squad. In a recent 2-2 home draw vs. Toronto, Matarrita led the team in defensive interceptions, and was second only to the GOAT Pirlo in passes and touches.
His team’s biggest challenge in its second season: finding a team identity. It’s what they’re all working to achieve.
“I would say that the biggest responsibility is to win and defining the personality of the squad,” he said as we finished our chat and he continued on his way.