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Breaking through, Bayona plays for much more

Breaking through, Bayona plays for much more

Sunday July 10, 2011 - Breaking through, Bayona plays for much more

By Adam Geigerman
Laredo Morning Times
Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011 1:36 AM CDT
Success in the global game is produced by perfect timing.

Soccer isn’t governed by a Bible-sized rulebook. It features only one objective: Put the ball in the net.

That simple act, although often elusive, has been Heat forward Esteban Bayona’s modus operandi this season, still with four pivotal games left in Laredo’s push for first place in the Premier Development League’s Mid-South Division.

In his third year with the Heat, Bayona leads the team with 10 goals, 20 points and 25 shots on goal through 12 games and has played the fifth-most minutes on the team.

“This is my year,” Bayona said.

“I feel prepared mentally and physically, along with the experience I have.

I know how tough it is to play, but I’ve been telling myself since day one, I will do whatever it is I have to do to score goals and help my team come out on top.”

He shows no sign of slowing, especially during the three-game absence of Laredo’s other potent scoring threat, Felix Garcia.

Bayona is tied for fourth in the league for goals scored out of 523 eligible players and tied for 12th in points out of 717 players.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Heat President Shashi Vaswani said.

“It’s a huge plus for the team how he has picked up in (Garcia’s) absence.

(Bayona) has always done his part and created chances to score and everything is really coming together for him this season.

“Let me just say, we would be in a muddle without him.”

But the Bayona story boasts much more than finding the net; his past propels every burst and guides every ball into the net.

A tale of two brothers

The Columbian native’s story begins in Bogota, Colombia, but finds America with hopes higher than any sport can understand.

“I was born in Columbia,” the 27-year old Bayona said.

“But I came to America when I was about six years old. From Columbia, I moved to Memphis, Tenn., joining my mom and brother, Diego Leonardo.”

Bayona’s stateside sojourn came a year after his mother and Diego had arrived. Diego, just a year and two days older, had been diagnosed with leukemia — a cancer of the blood and bone marrow — and was sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Bayona followed his family hoping to be the marrow match his brother needed, since the chances the pair matched were increased by their relation.

They didn’t match, and on July 13, 1993, at 9 years old, the Diego died.

“I think about him every day,” Bayona said. “I think about how happy he would be to see me play.

I play every game for him, and he drives me to be a better player, a better son, and a better person.

“When he passed away, I lost my best friend.”


The Bayona brothers were always at peace on the pitch; it’s where they belonged.

As two Colombians in a world of American opponents, the brothers took advantage of their own personal cryptic language — Spanish.

“We always played on the same team,” Bayona said.

“He was a goalkeeper and I played forward, but he would always tell me things in Spanish.

He could tell me directions or tips, and we had this automatic chemistry on the field because no one could understand us.”

After Diego died, the Bayonas moved to Arizona to start fresh, and Bayona immersed himself in the game — playing for club teams, going to England to play reserve teams from West Ham United FC and other English clubs.

Bayona’s exposure from traveling and competing at the club level granted him an opportunity to play collegiate soccer at Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

“Coming (to America) opened up opportunities for me,” Bayona said.

“But I always have a reason that I play for.

“The anniversary of (Diego’s death) is actually coming up, and I always dedicate the month of July to him. I know he is watching over me and taking care of me.

“But (July) is always very emotional for me and my mom.”

Multiple roles

Aside from leading the Heat, Bayona coaches youth club soccer for the San Antonio Fusion.

He holds the reins for an under-14 team and carries his knowledge from playing when he coaches.

But he also thinks like a coach as a Heat player.

“You see the game so differently from the sideline,” Bayona said.

“It’s given me a brighter experience of the game.

I see little details now and I know there are things that coaches have told me before, and now I tell my boys the exact same things.

“Being a coach has definitely helped me grow into a smarter player. It’s a mentality.”

Bayona calls himself a sponge as a player and a coach.

The two roles are vastly different, but the intellect gained from one transfers to the other.

The path from player to coach is only achieved by the bridge of knowledge linking the two.

“I think if you surround yourself with the game,” Vaswani said, “it only brings good results. It’s important to stay sharp.

Coaching and playing keeps (Bayona) at that level and it impacts his play.

It allows him to see both sides of the ball, so to speak.”

And Bayona hopes to travel the path for a while.

“I want to use the experience of playing later when coaching is the only option,” Bayona said.

“I just want my life to be soccer; I need to be close to the game 24/7.

“If I’m not coaching, I’m playing and if I’m not playing I’m coaching. If I can’t do either, I’m watching it.

“I want to be around the sport as long as I can. I can’t see myself separate from the game.”

Means to an end

Bayona’s big season has the Heat in a position to potentially secure first place in their division entering the playoffs.

With four games left and in second place, the Heat can leapfrog the first-place Chivas El Paso Patriots by winning out, including the season finale, in El Paso.

The playoff push shares a mutual gain for team and player, as scouts from higher-level soccer organizations watch for their next find.

Good performances lead to tryouts, and capitalized opportunities lead to a future.

It’s something Bayona has earned before, but the timing — essential in soccer — just wasn’t right.

“My last tryout was a while ago,” he said. “It was actually a little more than a year ago.

I got a one-week tryout with the (United Soccer League’s first division) Austin Aztex, but after a few days, they let me go. It just didn’t work out, and it was tough.

“I take that rejection as failure, and I don’t deal with failure very well.”

Bayona’s his regular season numbers have captured attention on the next level.

It is said that Major League Soccer organizations have issued calls on Bayona — a preliminary but significant step to advancing.

A strong playoff performance would lead to more inquiries.

“His points and goals definitely get people’s attention,” Vaswani said.

“As a front office, we put every effort into getting our players chances to advance to the next level.

We do all we can for them, but it’s up to them as well.

I’m confident that (Bayona’s) performance will be awarded with tryouts after this season.”