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A lot of kids dream of having the opportunity to one day suit up to play professional soccer for their hometown clubs. While the athletes that comprise the Houston Dynamo and Dash come from all over the world, a few players are getting to live out that dream. 

On the Dynamo side, goalkeeper Michael Nelson, midfielders Memo Rodriguez, Juan Castilla and Marcelo Palomino all hail from Space City. For the Dash, the lone native-Houstonian is forward Michaela Abam.

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According to Palomino, getting the chance to represent his city on the pitch is a privilege that he does not take for granted.

“It's a real honor and it's a great opportunity,” Palomino said. “It's something that I take a lot of pride in, being able to be one of the few that is able to represent the city on the field.”

This is particularly true for Palomino, as he has not exclusively represented Houston in his career. After growing up as a Houston Dynamo Academy product and signing a homegrown contract with the Club, Palomino spent the 2021 season on loan with the United Soccer League’s Charlotte Independence. During that season, he made 31 appearances for the team and finished with six goals and one assist. While he understands that this was an important experience in his career, the 20-year-old midfielder says the 2021 season made him appreciate representing his hometown club that much more.

"I enjoyed my time in Charlotte. It was a very good experience overall. But then at times I was missing home because there's nothing like it,” Palomino said. “For me, Houston's the best city in the world and being over there, gaining all that experience and being exposed to new things has helped me become a better player and a better person. To be able to help the team succeed over here. When I got back from Charlotte, I was really motivated to have just as good of a season if not even better than the one I had at Charlotte, this time, for my city."

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Memo Rodriguez is another midfielder who has love for Houston that extends beyond just playing for the Dynamo. For Rodriguez, who grew up in El Campo, Texas, about an hour outside of the city limits, Houston provided opportunities for him at a young age that he would not have otherwise had.

“I think it just really opened the doors for me,” Rodriguez said. “Coming from a small town that really just had recreational soccer. If I wanted to become someone or make it somewhere and develop as a soccer player, I knew that I had to come to this city because it had more competitive clubs, better teams.”

Houston is a city with a deep love for the game of soccer. For the native-Houstonians of the Dynamo and Dash, a few parks stick out as particularly special.

“I remember my favorite ones were always at Burroughs Park in the Tomball area,” Nelson said. “I just remember that at that field we always had a lot of good games. I feel like every time I played there it was like 5-4, 6-5, just wildly high scoring games.”

One of the defining characteristics of Houston is its diversity. The Bayou City is, by many metrics, the most diverse city in America.

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According to Michael Abam, this diversity permeates throughout the city’s soccer culture as well.

“I feel like the soccer here, because there's so many different people and different cultures within Houston, the style of it becomes so broad in the fact that there's so many different styles that mix to make a Houston-style of playing,” Abam said.

Nelson reiterated this diversity as a crucial aspect of soccer in Houston and noted that it is something that he has come to appreciate more as he has gotten older.

“At a young age, even on my club team, we had some players from Africa, players from South America, players from Europe, so you kind of get this melting pot of tactical ideas and approaches to the game,” Nelson said. “I think that's really cool and unique to Houston specifically, being such a diverse city and so I think being surrounded by that, you see different levels of passion for the game and it's just really cool. Probably when I was younger I didn't have the perspective to realize how cool that was but now that I've grown older and gotten to look back on that, it was a really great thing to be exposed to that at a younger age and probably grew my knowledge of the game quicker than it otherwise could have.”

As the city grows, the soccer culture is also growing. Palomino believes that one of the most important components of encouraging this growth is by building fields that provide access to the game to as many people as possible, something that Houston Dynamo FC is heavily involved in.

“With the mini-pitches that are being built, there's more fields now than there was years ago,” Palomino said. “I think it's going to continue that way and it's awesome because there's tons of kids that are just waiting for that opportunity, and maybe all they need is just a little field around them to get going. So, I think the soccer culture is great and it's only growing.”

For Rodriguez, the growth of this soccer culture in Houston is a great thing, as soccer can serve as a unifying force.

“Houston is such a diverse city and bringing everyone together to play the game of soccer is incredible,” Rodriguez said. “I think the soccer culture continues to grow throughout the whole United States. I think it's pretty special that a soccer ball can bring everybody together in happiness on the pitch.”