The television is mounted to a wall in the living room, and while it has spotty reliability, it’s often the only source of visual communication Mery Medranda has with her son. From inside her Colombian home, she powers on the screen every weekend, searching for the Sporting Kansas City match.
More than 2,600 miles and one continent away, Jimmy Medranda is enjoying a breakout season with Sporting KC, one that had previously shown few signs of materializing.
Mery’s Facebook page is littered with mentions of her 22-year-old son’s accomplishments. He scored his first MLS goal three weeks ago. But nearly five years into Jimmy Medranda’s professional career, Mery had never seen him play in person. Not once.
Until a trip to Kansas City provided her first chance.
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On Sunday, she owns a reserved seat inside Children's Mercy Park for the second consecutive week after watching Sporting KC's 3-0 victory against Seattle last weekend. Medranda, who talks to his mother every day on the phone, is projected to start his 13th straight match Sunday, when the club plays host to Portland at 1 p.m.
"I'm so happy for my mom," said Medranda, who is still learning the English language. "First time she (has) watched me play — I'm so excited."
The vacation lasts just two weeks. In a few days, Mery will return to her home in Mosquera, Colombia.
And that’s where this story began.
The lure of America developed when Medranda was 18 years old, playing for Colombian club Deportivo Pereira near his hometown. During one particular practice with Deportivo Pereira, he spotted a silver-haired man standing on the sideline scouting players.
After practice, Medranda approached the man — Sporting KC assistant coach Octavio Zambrano — and begged him for a tryout.
“No, no, no, this league isn’t for you,” Zambrano said, as Medranda recalled this week. “It’s too hard.”
Zambrano instead took one of Medranda’s teammates back to the United States. He would return to Colombia three months later — this time for Medranda.
The invitation to Kansas City, however, came with a caveat — there was no guarantee of a contract. Medranda would have to prove himself.
And that didn’t come easy. Today, as Medranda describes his initial practice with Sporting KC, he bends at the waist and places his hands on his knees to symbolize his exhaustion.
“I made one sprint,” he says. “No more.”
The trial spanned one month before Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes inked Medranda, then 19, to an MLS contract.
The journey had just begun. The fitness issues persisted. In an attempt to accelerate his sustainability on the field, the coaching staff instructed Medranda to run sprints after practice. On one occasion, Vermes directed him to run the length of the field 10 times. Medranda quit after six, insisting he couldn’t do any more.
“Personally, I’ve never been around a player that would say that ever in my life,” Vermes said. “What are you talking about you’re not doing any more? You’re doing four more, and if you can’t do four more, you’re going to do eight more.”
Medranda’s teammates describe him as humble, quiet, open-minded and eager to learn. And talented as heck.
The technical abilities have always provided standout moments during training, and they’ve kept him on the roster. He has one of the best first touches on the team.
But the fitness came more gradually, even slowly, after a bevy of conversations with Vermes. The process was so slow, in fact, that Medranda worried he could be removed from the team’s future plans. His first three MLS seasons included only 558 minutes of action on the field.
Finally, he made a long-awaited breakthrough last August, when he moved from winger to left outside defender and starred in a 3-1 victory in Toronto. But seven days later, he was removed 34 minutes into the match. He had hit a wall.
Vermes stayed patient. During a roster progress report with owners, when Medranda’s name came up, Vermes was emphatic he was worth keeping, despite a limited number of international spots available on an MLS roster.
“I was asked, ’What is it you see in this kid?’ “Vermes said. “And I responded that I would stake my job on the fact that he’s going to be a player one day.”
So how, exactly, has that come to fruition? How has he statistically out-performed — albeit under the radar — some of the best left outside defenders in the league?
Medranda credits a preseason stint with the Swope Park Rangers, Sporting Kansas City’s first-year USL program.
“Peter (asked) me if I wanted to play with the second team. I said (that) the only thing I want is to play,” Medranda said. “I got confidence.”
A series of injures extended the opportunity to the senior team. He’s yet to relinquish it. In 15 starts this season, he has been perhaps as consistent as any player on the Sporting KC roster not named Roger Espinoza. And he’s lasted the full 90 minutes in each of the past 11 matches, with Sporting KC earning points in seven of them.
Despite playing only limited time early in the season, Medranda leads all of MLS with 55 successful tackles. Since May 20, he also leads the league with 43 interceptions.
“We haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s got a lot more in his game that’s still coming,” Vermes said. “I’m not sure if left back will be his best and final position, even though I think he’s playing one of the best left backs in the league. He has other qualities that he can still realize.”
If it seems like it’s taken him awhile to scratch his potential, the wait for his mother to witness it has been even longer. When Medranda was a kid, Mery was a single mother who worked out of town to support her family. She would come home only for the weekends to see her two children.
Today, Medranda returns the gesture. A portion of every paycheck is sent back to Colombia. That TV his mother watches? It was a gift.
She used to flip it on and hope her son would enter the game. Now, Medranda says his mother calls from nearly 3,000 miles away to let him know when she will be watching him take the field.
On Sunday, she will tell him in person.