Colombian native Santiago Patino is only 20, but he has already been in the family business — soccer — for about 16 years.
Patino, a junior forward for FIU (3-0-2), is second in Conference USA with five goals and is first in the league in scores per game.
But he has a long way to go to match the soccer exploits of the other Patino men in his family, including his father, Milton, who was a pro goalie, and uncle Jairo, a midfielder for the Colombian national team from 2003 to 2007. Another uncle, Alejandro Patino, also played pro soccer in Colombia.
“Santi,” as he is known, came to the U.S. at age 12, settling in Orlando with his mother, Maria. Patino was already an emerging soccer talent at the time, but he took his game to the next level when he joined the MLS Orlando City academy.
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At age 16, he met Kevin Nylen, who was then an FIU assistant but is now in his first year as the Panthers’ head coach.
“He is relentless,” Nylen said of the way Patino runs … and runs … and runs, eventually wearing down opponents. “He never stops.”
Nylen said Patino, a 6-0, 185-pounder, is “as strong as anybody”, using his body to hold off defenders before turning to attack.
Patino’s style, Nylen said, is similar to that of a “poor man’s version of Diego Costa,” referencing the pro striker for Chelsea who is known for his physicality, goal-scoring and the ability to keep possession.
Patino, after scoring a career-high eight goals last year and earning first-team Conference USA honors, has made himself a marked man.
Still, teams haven’t been able to slow him down. Only Hurricane Irma, which forced the postponement of two FIU soccer games, has managed to keep Patino off the scoreboard lately.
“Teams have tried to play Santi physical,” Nylen said. “They have tried to play him tight or drop off. They have tried to man-mark him. But he still finds a way.”
On Saturday, Patino and the Panthers will get another challenge, this time from Charlotte (3-1-1). Both teams are 1-0 in league play.
FIU has a deep team — Nylen has already used 21 of his 28 players. Only three players have started every game: Patino and the senior co-captains, winger Paul Marie of France and central midfielder Donald Tomlinson, who played locally at American Heritage.
Patino, who goes home to Medellín a couple of times annually, is majoring in recreation and sports management with a minor in marketing. His eventual goal is to become a sports agent.
For now, though, playing soccer is his passion, and he has spent countless hours talking about the game with his father, the former goalie who has shared some crucial advice.
“My dad taught me that it’s hard for a goalie to stop a shot that is low, hard and close to the post,” Patino said.
“He also taught me how to prepare myself mentally the day before a game. He tells me to imagine myself in front of the goalie. Imagine what I would do with the ball.”
So far, at least once a game, what Patino has done with the ball is put it in the back of the net.