From Mérida, Mexico to Stony Brook University: Yamil Montenegro’s Journey
By Fernando Acevedo
In Mérida, Mexico during recess, Yamil Sinuhé Montenegro Hernández followed his routine of playing soccer on a fenced court with boys older than him.
“We were third graders and we played against the fifth grade or sixth grade and we would never beat them,” Montenegro said.
On this particular day, the third graders beat the odds, winning by a clear margin of victory.
“I made a couple of saves and at the time it seemed like a big deal. We beat them two or three to zero so I was pretty happy, and I was like yeah, I love this so I’m going to do this. That’s how it started.”
Now playing for Stony Brook University’s Men’s Soccer Team, Montenegro is continuing his journey in becoming a professional goalkeeper in the United States.
Montenegro’s parents, moved from Mexico City to Mérida when they were young. Growing up his dad, Juan Montenegro, worked at a bank and his mother, Miriam Montenegro, had “the hardest job which was taking care of us,” according to her son. His family also includes younger sister, 14-year-old Elizabeth Montenegro.
“It’s hard having him far away, we miss him every day,” Montenegro’s parents said. “Most of all his sister, they are very close. But nevertheless, we know soccer is his life and we support him unconditionally.”
The aspiring soccer player who looks up to World Cup winner Iker Casillas, strived towards becoming a Division I goalkeeper in kindergarten.
“Casillas was my favorite goalkeeper. I would see myself in his position. I’m kind of a short goalkeeper and he too, was kind of short, so Casillas was kind of my model growing up,” he said.
In first grade, he joined the school’s B team and the next year, he moved up to the A team. However, he was often put on the bench and when he did play, he was forced into positions he didn’t want to play.
Following this experience, he left the soccer team and took up basketball for a year. After his epiphany at recess in the third grade, he quit basketball and went back to the soccer field.
In 2013 he trained with a goalkeeping academy called Akademia Club de Porteros and continued for six years. Montenegro was coached by former professional Alejandro Vargas who founded the club and serves as the director and as one of the goalkeeping coaches.
When asked about Montenegro, Alejandro Vargas said, “He always sought excellence in what he did. His best attribute is definitely his technical ability as a goalkeeper: he dives very well, he excels in aerial play, he has good secure hands.”
Montenegro joined a fourth division amateur team before he tried out for a third division team Deportiva Venados, which is considered a professional club, formed in Mérida.
“I saw Yamil training and he drew my attention as a goalkeeper,” said the director of youth teams for Deportiva Venados, Alejandro Rodríguez. “So, I invited him to come to the tryouts in the summer and he was selected to participate that season.”
He and his parents weren’t sure if he would make the team because the average age of the players was around 17 to 18 years old. He was 15 years old.
“They told me you know if you don’t make it don’t be disappointed you can always tryout next time,” Montenegro said when asked about how his parents reacted to him wanting to tryout for Deportiva Venados. “When I made it, they were really excited, they were really happy.”
After his first year at the Deportiva Venados, Montenegro went on a student exchange to Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany for a year.
He was a starter for Düsseldorf Sporting Club’s, an amateur two team.
“The practices weren’t really as hard as others I had before, but they were still pretty good,” Montenegro said.
He played well and had tryouts lined up after teams in the third and fourth divisions had seen him play.
Before the tryouts Montenegro broke his ankle and missed them.
“I had surgery and everything over there, but it was tough. Not having your family and everything, but I told myself to focus on other things.”
Returning from Germany, Montenegro reclaimed his spot in the lineup, starting eight games in a row for Deportiva Venados before another injury struck. A wrist injury kept him out for four or five games, enough time for his replacement to relegate him to backup keeper.
“The other goalkeeper started, and the coach liked him better than me, but that’s what happens,” Montenegro said about losing his place.
He then learned Stony Brook University was offering tryouts for the soccer team. In the summer of 2017 he came to Stony Brook University, where he made the team and enrolled for the spring semester of 2018.
The first season, he was redshirted. Montenegro could practice with the team, but was ineligible to play in games.
“It was disappointing in a way, because I’ve put a lot of effort since I came to Stony Brook and I think I have the level to be a starter. But on the other hand, redshirting is good to see how a college soccer season works before you have to play. So it wasn’t that bad for me,” he said.
Despite not playing in games Montenegro had an impact on his team.
“We use him as an example when evaluating other guys on the team because we want everyone to be as hard working as him,” teammate Stephen Turnbull said. “His hard work inspires other people, even myself to be better. I truly wish there were more guys like Yamil on the team.”
Currently, the team only has Montenegro as a goalkeeper since Christian Miesch, last season’s starter, transferred to Syracuse and Jacob Braham left the team.
“We are always looking to bring players in to replace those who have left the program and make our group more competitive,” Men’s head soccer coach Ryan Anatol when asked about the departure of the aforementioned goalkeepers. “We will continue to do that for the upcoming fall but we are looking for guys who fit our culture, who are excited to develop in our environment and who are committed to working towards achieving our goals.”
Montenegro knows this doesn’t mean he will start when the season begins and continues to work hard to make that position his.
“Right now I’m the only goalkeeper, but that doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to be the starter,” he said.
Montenegro already has plans after college.
“After four years I’d like to go pro definitely,” Montenegro shared before then saying, “I would like to get drafted. Any team. It’s not a big deal what team I’d go to because they’re all professional teams and then from there maybe move to Europe. If I make it to Europe that’s big, that’s huge.” Asked what team in Europe would be his preference, he responded, “Juventus because that’s my team.”
The biology major said that if soccer doesn’t work out for him, he wants to become a doctor and practice sports medicine or become an orthopedic and work with a soccer a team here in the United States.
“He is a serious boy, committed to discipline, and hardworking,” said Rodríguez before adding, “His qualities included being very secure with his hands, good positioning, and good shot-stopping.”