October 19 was a special day at the Training Ground. Head coach Gonzalo Pineda celebrated his 39th birthday. The head coach arrived around 7 a.m. to his first-floor meeting room decorated with balloons, streamers and piñatas – a splash of festive color livening the space filled with meticulous, black-and-white diagrams drawn on whiteboards.
At the start of practice, players formed a tunnel on the far side of the pitch. As the head coach ran through, players hollered and gave him playful pats on the back. The team had its training session, then Pineda met with reporters.
“Yeah, now I regret a little bit,” Pineda joked.
He answered questions with full awareness of what was waiting for him afterward. Just behind him, his players and staff had already started to gather on the field in front of the locker room. When he was done with the media, the head coach made his way toward them.
They brought out a pristine cake – and a little more for El Profe. Assistant coach Diego de la Torre held out the cake – then smashed it in Pineda’s face. Several guys, including striker Luiz Araújo, sprayed him with silly string. Striker Josef Martínez led the charge and dumped a cooler of water on coach. Others doused him with individual-sized Powerades.
“It’s part of the mood of the team,” Pineda said. “I want to be more like a family, like you’re celebrating with your family.”
Every time there’s a birthday, the team circles up after practice. They sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ they bring out a cake – but not for eating. The honoree gets it slammed into his face. They laugh, they chase, they throw pieces of whatever cake is left at each other. They have fun together.
“It’s just to celebrate the guys,” Pineda said.
The tradition officially began last month with Brad Guzan’s birthday on Sept. 9. Soon several more, including Ronald Hernández, Brooks Lennon, Mo Adams and Ben Lundgaard, got a taste of the sweet tradition.
“My kids kept asking me why they smashed a cake in my face,” Guzan said.
The goalkeeper was thankful and happy to be the first member of the team to celebrate his birthday this way. He said it sends a big message about the values of the manager and his coaching staff.
“We play a game for a living but obviously, we’re all individuals and humans outside of this training facility, so it’s being appreciative of everyone in terms of what they bring to our group and then also how we make the group better,” Guzan said.
The celebratory tradition reflects the group’s close camaraderie and playful spirit. It’s a message that speaks to the entire team, that everyone is appreciated and everyone is welcome to the family.
A culture that Pineda has been striving to set since day one:
“That’s what I want to bring to the players, like they feel at home, they feel in an environment where they just they can do the same thing that they do with family.”