Federico Peña has lived in Winnipeg for the majority of his life, but the Valour FC midfielder/defender has never forgotten his roots.
"We have a saying in Trinidad," Pena told the Free Press on Friday. "When you’re born in Trinidad, you say you’re ‘Trini to the bone.’"
It turns out Peña's birth country of Trinidad and Tobago, a dual-island Caribbean nation, hasn’t forgotten about him either.
Peña, who moved to Winnipeg with his family when he was 10, got the call of a lifetime last Sunday when he was asked to join the Trinidad and Tobago senior men’s national soccer team for their international friendly against the United States this Sunday in Orlando. Pena arrived in Florida on Thursday and will be training with his countrymen before and after the match before flying back to Winnipeg on Feb. 3.
"It’s a big thing for me and my family. Obviously, I’ve had amazing support from my family. I have five brothers and four sisters, so I have a big family. I have two parents who really support my dreams, so I’m really grateful to them," said Pena, who has spent the past two seasons with Valour in the Canadian Premier League and will return in 2021.
"But you know, this is something that I’ve always wanted as a kid since watching the Trinidad national team in the 2006 World Cup. It’s where my love for football, my love for soccer grew and it’s honestly the biggest honour to be able to come here and represent my country. It’s really amazing."
Peña, a Glenlawn Collegiate grad, came up through the ranks in Winnipeg with South End United, Bonivital, and Granite United before heading overseas to play on the under-21 squads for KAA Gent and Royal Standard de Liège of the Belgium First Division. When the CPL was born, Peña returned home and signed with Valour prior to the inaugural season in 2019.
"It’s been a ride. Soccer has taken me to a lot of places and not a lot of kids get to experience that. I’m just really lucky and happy, well, I wouldn’t say lucky because I’ve worked really hard, but it’s something not everyone gets to experience, so I’m really grateful for that. I just hope I get to continue playing as long as possible and continue making memories and meeting new people in the soccer environment," Pena said.
He didn’t see much action as a rookie, but at the Island Games in Charlottetown, P.E.I., last summer, Peña appeared in six of Valour’s seven games and showed a ton of growth. Valour head coach and general manager Rob Gale thinks Pena’s involvement with the national team will help him take another big step in 2021.
"The beauty of international football is kind of like getting a master’s education every time you go," said Gale.
"I think (Dutch soccer great) Johan Cruyff used to say it was like the equivalent of getting 10 or 11 club games under your belt playing in one international (match) because you’re with the best of the best. You’re at the elite level. For Federico to get called by Trinidad and Tobago, they’ve been a perennial contender for World Cup (qualifying). They’ve been to the World Cup. That’s a very well-established CONCACAF program and for him to get called up to the senior national team is a fantastic credit to Federico and his hard work, determination, keeping his head down, and competing for everything he’s got."
All players went for COVID-19 testing soon after arriving in Florida and had to isolate in their hotel rooms until their results came back. They’ll also be tested again before the match on Sunday. With Winnipeg being in lockdown since October, Peña likely isn’t at his sharpest this week, but he’s confident he can overcome that and make a strong impression. The goal is to beat the United States and show he deserves to be called back in March when Trinidad and Tobago play a World Cup qualifier against Guyana.
"I think it’s attainable as long as I work hard and show what I’m capable of, show that I belong here," said Pena.
"I believe it’s definitely attainable, but it’s totally up to the coaching staff."
SOURCE: Winnipeg Free Press