Teen phenom Salgado can't wait for SuperDraft

Omar Salgado grows weary of constantly shuttling around the country and the world in the name of soccer.

The 17-year-old phenom, who has been without a club since leaving Chivas de Guadalajara in July to join the United States U-20 squad, has trained with Everton, Vancouver, Portland and, most recently, D.C. United during the last five months. Coaches around Major League Soccer want to see the immensely talented but raw striker – a lock to go high in January's 2011 SuperDraft – perform firsthand.

Salgado can't wait to be settled.

"I'm a little anxious," he told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Tuesday afternoon. "I just want to find a home already because I've been traveling so much. I've been traveling too much."

In addition to the whirlwind of clubs, he's flown around the world for Thomas Rongen's youth side. Despite being one of the youngest players on the roster, the striker started all three matches during the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland – scoring the only goal in the American's opening tilt against China – and played in two of the team's three fixtures on their September trip to Peru.

Salgado is currently training with the U-20 team in Georgia in preparation for this weekend's Torneo de las Americas. The squad plays Colombia on Friday and Mexico two days later.

Rongen understands the emotional and physical toll Salgado has endured during the last half year in soccer limbo and plans to help the young striker rest.

"We're going to shut him down after this so he can prepare properly for the combine," the U-20 coach said over the phone from Georgia. "He's breaking down a little bit physically due to the travel. Every time he goes somewhere, he wants to impress."

On Jan. 13, Salgado will learn his MLS fate – Vancouver, Portland and DC possess the first three picks – but his immediate attention is focused on the two matches at hand. The El Paso, Texas, native is competing with Juan Agudelo, Tristan Bowen and Fued Ibrahim for a starting role. Add Adrian Ruelas, Jack McInerney, Francisco Navas Cobo and Bobby Wood into the mix and the competition to make the squad for April's U-20 CONCACAF Championship is tough.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the Stars and Stripes program, however, his upside has already made a positive impression on the coaching staff. Salgado's potential future prospects will help him find playing time now.

"Don't get me wrong," Rongen said, "we want to qualify and win the U-20 World Cup. But I have to figure out what translates to the next level and guys that will help out our country's senior team. That's not 20 or 30 guys; that’s a handful of guys. And he has certain attributes that make me believe he can be one of them."

Salgado is 6-foot-3, possesses a strong left foot and shows awareness in the box. Rongen praises his athleticism and tactical acumen, although he admits his charge needs seasoning and experience.

Jaime Moreno, who trained with the teenager in DC last month and is working with the U-20 squad in Georgia, agrees with the head coach's assessment.

"He's still young," MLS's all-time leading goal scorer said. "He can see that he has potential, but he's a long way. He's got to work on other stuff."

Salgado, for his part, sounds committed to improving. He references the development of Agudelo, who went from sitting on the New York Red Bulls bench to scoring for the US senior national team in a matter of weeks, as an inspiration, making sure to note that Hans Backe rewarded his youngster with playing time because of a year of hard work, not just a couple weeks of strong training.

As the forward looks ahead to next year, he doesn't care if he's stuck behind talented strikers like Agudelo was in New York. He doesn't express a preference for which club drafts him; he just wants a chance to demonstrate his talents.

"I'm expecting to get to a team and show that I can play," he said. "I want to make an impact my first year. I'll try to do something like Andy Najar did."

Rongen believes that the return of the reserve league will help the young talent develop but also thinks an MLS club can benefit from Salgado's presence almost immediately.

"I think he's a guy that can contribute," the veteran coach said. "Is that 30 games, 90 minutes every game? Probably not. But coming off the bench, contributing here and there when players get called to the national team for the Gold Cup or whatever, yeah, he'll help."

Salgado got a taste of what he can expect during his stint in the nation's capital.

"[In DC], I got to see what it was to be an MLS pro," he said. "In Vancouver and Portland I was D2, so it was different. At DC, the pace is faster, the players are better."

He enjoyed the opportunity to play with Najar and fellow U-20 teammate Conor Shanosky and felt as though he fit in with his agemates on the field. And of course, teenagers – even professional soccer players – will be teenagers when they step away from the game.

"Off the field, they like to play FIFA," he said of the young United duo.

In a matter of weeks, Salgado can sit down, rest in his new, more permanent, home and play alongside his new teammates.

Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.

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