Manu Monserrat Brings Professional Approach to Houston

Date Posted: 4/14/2023


Former Academy Player Manu Monserrat Brings Professional Approach to Houston

By John Varlas, Daily Memphian
Published: April 14, 2023 12:38 PM CT

David Wolff knew of Manu Monserrat before he actually knew him.  And what the coach knew was certainly intriguing.

The Houston High soccer coach knew Monserrat had talented DNA; his older brother, Juan, was a standout for CBHS a few seasons ago.  He knew that Manu was a very good player in his own right; the fact he was playing at the Columbus Crew Academy was a clear indication of his ability.

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When word reached Wolff over the summer that Monserrat was looking to return to Memphis for his senior season and that Houston was a distinct possibility, Wolff crossed his fingers and hoped for the best.  What he’s gotten from Monserrat is about as good as he could have hoped for.

It started on the first day of preseason drills.

“First time we did conditioning, he was at the front of the pack,” Wolff said.  “He didn’t know anybody, and he wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody.  That’s just the way he’s made ... everything is about the process, and you don’t skirt the process.

“It would be real easy to come in from an academy and say, ‘I’m just going to play high school, and I’m going to chill out.  Thanks a lot.’  That’s not what it was at all.  That dude is as humble as any I’ve ever coached.  I’ve coached a lot of good players, and there’s not one of them who is as humble as that kid.”

And it’s Monserrat’s humility that has allowed him to slide in seamlessly to an already talented Houston team that is attempting to win its second state championship in three seasons in 2023.  Early results are promising; with several key district games upcoming, the Mustangs have nine victories and a draw through 10 games.

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From the player’s standpoint, things are going well too.  A defensive midfielder who is headed to the University of Memphis, Monserrat joined the academy of the Major League Soccer club following his eighth-grade year and stayed before transferring to Houston.

Coach David Wolff made Manu Monserrat the captain of the Houston High soccer team.  (John Varlas/The Daily Memphian)

MLS academies are modeled after clubs around the world and identify promising youngsters early on, with the goal of one day bringing them into the first team.  The academy’s website espouses goals like “(building) passionate and intrinsic motivation for the game” and “(developing) accountability for personal development” along with a “growth mindset to overcome moments of adversity.”

For some, it can be the pathway to MLS success.  And while Monserrat learned a great deal and undoubtedly developed as a player, he ultimately decided it wasn’t for him.

“I was over there for three years, living with a host family,” he said  “My family stayed here in Memphis.  I really enjoyed it.  A lot of training and a lot of traveling, and there was a game every weekend.  Those guys really got after it.  It was a great experience.

“But it was hard for me. I was 14 (when he left). Toward the end, it got a little easier, but it was still difficult being away from family.  That first year was really, really tough.  I was crying; I was homesick really bad.  I’d call my mom and dad every week and be like, ‘Hey, I wanted to come home.’  It was really intense, not a lot of breaks.”

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Monserrat’s parents urged him to be patient and stick it out for six months. Eventually, the player found his comfort zone — and some friends.

But there’s something to be said for hanging out with friends at football games, going to senior prom and cutting up with your teammates on road trips.  Monserrat developed his skills in Ohio, but he also discovered what’s important.

In an era where athletes are being funneled away from conventional high school competition in several sports in favor of prep schools or specialized “skills factories,” Wolff said it’s important to know who you are.

“There are going to be players around the state who look and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to miss out on that opportunity of playing high school,’” he continued.  “‘I don’t want to miss out on those years.’  You can’t get those years back.  You don’t realize it until you’re there.

“As a pro, you’re getting paid; it’s your job. But when you’re a kid ...”

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Wolff doesn’t finish the sentence, but the message is clear; the grass isn’t always greener.  But as Monserrat said, the overall experience was positive, and he’s making Houston even more formidable than usual.  The coach describes him as being a combination of the best parts of three standout players from Mustang annals, Parker Humphrey, Ben Shepherd and Stefano Della Rosa.

“It did take a little bit of time adjusting,” Monserrat said.  “It’s a completely new school, but I’ve really enjoyed my time here. (High school soccer) is a little slower but it is more physical.”

Along with his skills, Monserrat also brought a professional approach to the team.  It manifests itself in things like being first in conditioning runs — without prodding or showing off.  You do your best because that’s the best thing to do.

It’s one of the reasons Wolff has made Monserrat a captain this year, a telling honor for a newcomer.  The coach is an ardent Manchester United fan, and he has another comparison when describing Monserrat’s leadership.

“He’s a Paul Scholes,” Wolff said.  “You just respect him and respect the manner in which he does things.  He has a more European view of the game. Everything is about precision.”

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Monserrat’s worldview was shaped by lots of traveling as an academy player, and it’s probably the thing he misses most.  In addition to hitting other MLS cities around the country, he’s also visited Scotland and Argentina — where his family is from and where he still has relatives.

By comparison, Murfreesboro in May isn’t quite as glamorous. But donning the captain’s armband prior to the state championship game would be a nice way to end his youth career.

Monserrat knows where he’s going because of where he’s been.

“When (Wolff) made me captain, I was really excited to take that on,” he said.  “I saw it as a new challenge.  I don’t yell at people, I just try to give them advice and (lead) that way.”