When Fernando Laverde graduated from the FC Dallas Academy last summer, a return to Frisco one day was certainly in his career plans, but he couldn’t have known it would happen this soon.
It won’t be the red and white of FC Dallas that Laverde will be wearing this weekend at Toyota Stadium, but rather the gold of the UCF Knights as they look to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament.
“It’s a huge deal for me to come back and play again at my field,” said Laverde. “We were down a goal (against Memphis) so we won just by heart. It was a great comeback.”
Indeed, Laverde and UCF came from 1-0 down to beat Memphis in overtime booking their spot in Frisco. They’ll face nationally-ranked UConn in the second game of Friday’s semifinal doubleheader as they chase their first conference championship since 2004.
“For us, it’s a final and we want to take care of business,” said Laverde. “It’s going to be war for us.”
That’s about as much as you’ll get out of the seemingly soft-spoken Laverde who lets his play on the field do most of the talking. The central midfielder has transitioned seamlessly into the role from the outside back position he played as a younger member of the FCD Academy to the tune of a team-leading four assists as well as three goals scored this season, his first in the college game.
“He’s started every game for us since his arrival. He’s a great kid and a hard worker,” UCF Head Coach Bryan Cunningham said of Laverde. “He’s very dependable and plays center midfield for us which is hard to do as a freshman. Coming from FC Dallas, though, we were pretty confident that the training he got [in Frisco] would transfer into our environment and it has. He’s certainly taken advantage of his opportunity with us.”
Laverde spent three years with the FCD Academy before graduating and was a major contributor on the 2012 team that won the US Soccer Development Academy Under-18 National Championship.
“I think of Fernando in high regard. I remember him as a player who took a lot of pride in his role,” said FCD U-18 Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez. “Last year he was molded into a leadership position as one of the veterans with experience. He’s an honest player who never cut corners and worked hard, it showed in his fitness.”
“His early success doesn’t surprise me at all, because college is a game where you need to be mentally strong. It’s a short season and you need to be resilient.”
The biggest game yet for Laverde awaits on Friday night at Toyota Stadium as his Knights will need to produce their best performance of the season with their NCAA Tournament hopes likely riding on the game against Connecticut.