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My Debut: Mario Penagos

By William Strome, 02/12/21, 5:00PM PST

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After he rose through the ranks of the SRFC Youth Academy system, the Elk Grove-native tells the story of the first night he laced up his boots with the first team in a league match

Not many players can say their professional debut was on opening night in front of a sell-out crowd. 

And not many players can say they were one of just two Republic FC academy graduates to earn his first professional start during Sacramento’s season opener. 

But Mario Penagos can. 

The Sacramento-native first joined the Indomitable Club in 2015 for the academy’s inaugural campaign and ever since then, Penagos has continued to hone his skills and eventually earn a pro contract.  

Then, on March 7 at Papa Murphy’s Park against FC Tulsa, he got that well-deserved opportunity to grace the pitch as a professional soccer player for the first time in a league fixture - a match Mario will never forget.

When did you first find out you were going to be included in the 18-man squad? 

“I think it was training that week, maybe towards the middle of the week when he told me. Coach told Hayden [Sargis] and I that we were going to be in the starting lineup. So it wasn't a total surprise on that Saturday, we both knew going into it.”

What do you remember about the day itself leading up to the match?

“As far as the morning routine, it was kind of just the same. I was a little nervous leading up to the game but once I got into the locker room, I was fine. I felt good, I was excited. All through warm-ups I was feeling confident and I was feeling excited. And then, when we were walking out, I remember walking out with the little kid who was holding my hand and I saw everybody in the stands. That's when I got a little nervous then because there was so many people there, it was opening night. But it was a good. The weather was good, there were a lot of people there. And I just remember right when they blew the whistle for kickoff, everybody got up and was cheering and there was smoke everywhere I was like ‘wow, there's a lot of people here’!”

Was there anything a friend or family member told you during the day that really stuck with you?

“A lot of my family was texting me or calling me just saying good luck and how they're so proud of me.I think probably like 30 or 40 of my family members was there at the game!”

You’ve prepared for hundreds of games in your life but did this one feel any different? 

“I was nervous, but I knew once the game would start all those nerves would kind of go away. So I was just waiting for the game to start the whole time.”

What do you remember about the warm-ups and was there anything you remember that a coach or teammate told you that really motivated or inspired you? 

“I know everybody was super hyped up and we were all just trying to get focused. In the warm up, we’re just trying to get, our passes right, just get our minds right. Just getting focused.”

“[The veteran players were] talking to us specifically, just telling us ‘we're starting for a reason’, ‘don't be nervous, know you can do it’ and they just helped us get confident for the game.”

Is there a player on the team you look up to for inspiration?

“I would say somebody like Cam who's been here for a while, who's a big name within the Republic fans and he scores goals like how I like to. I would say somebody like Cam for sure.”

Where were you looking when you first walked out of the tunnel right before kickoff?

“I was looking to find my family, but I wasn't sure where they were! Because like I said, there were a lot of fans there so I was wondering if I would just find them scattered or if they're all together someplace. I couldn't really find them all. I was just kind of looking at how many people were there. It wasn't like I was looking for anybody really in specific, just to see where my family was and just how many people were there.”

What do you remember about the match and how did you feel about your performance? 

“The best thing would have been to score. I had a chance early. I felt I did good and then hearing those stats, I mean, the main thing I want to do is help the team any way I can. Whether it's scoring goals or tackles or whatever, so I mean, yeah, I was happy overall with it.”

What did the team tell you after the match? 

“To me specifically, they're proud. Coach Mark was really proud of me and Hayden just to just to go out there and like I said, do whatever we could to help the team, so I was happy to hear that. He told me that and it gave me more confidence.”

What do you remember about the ride home and the hours after your debut?

“I rode home with my parents and my two brothers, and we were just kind of talking about the game. They would always talk to me after a game just about everything I did or what they liked that I did or whatever. They were just telling me how proud they were but then when I got home, I just went to sleep! I think we had to wake up early for training in the morning and I was tired, so I just want to sleep. That's pretty much how that went!”

Do you think about that night often? 

“I definitely think about that, how we had fans in the stadium and how I wished I would have scored the goal with fans in the stadium. I definitely think about that but, I mean, I still like playing –  fans or not – but it's just a little different when there's fans cheering.”

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  • My Debut: Mario Penagos

  • By William Strome 02/12/2021, 5:00pm PST
  • After he rose through the ranks of the SRFC Youth Academy system, the Elk Grove-native tells the story of the first night he laced up his boots with the first team in a league match
  • Read More