KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While Thursday’s SuperDraft was reaching its end, thousands of miles away in Medellín, Colombia, Sebastián Velásquez and his closest group of family and friends exploded with joy.
The reason? The young attacker had just been selected by Real Salt Lake with the 36th overall pick, culminating Velásquez’s long and arduous journey to the professional ranks.
“I started to cry,” Velásquez confessed to FutbolMLS.com in a phone call from Colombia just hours after being picked. “I was so happy. For me, it’s a reward for all of my hard work. Ever since I was a child I wanted to be a pro.
“I’ve been following the draft from here,” he added. “I didn’t watch the ceremony, but I saw my name online and was shocked.”
His reaction is justified, as his route to MLS wasn’t exactly the straightest, going from a small recreational club in South Carolina to a tryout with Barcelona’s famed youth academy, and finally a junior college in the US, where he was discovered by the RSL coaching staff.
He’s not alone
At RSL, Velásquez will have the pleasure of playing alongside childhood friend and teammate Enzo Martínez, whom Salt Lake chose with the 17th overall pick in the SuperDraft.
“He lives like two hours away from my house,” Velásquez said. “He and I met each other as rivals. The games were always intense when he and his friends would play against me and my friends. I always wanted to play with him. We finally played on the same youth team and we won a national championship. … I went nuts when they picked him and was hoping they’d pick me, too.”
An interesting journey
As opposed to Martínez, who shone at the collegiate level while with North Carolina and followed a traditional route to MLS, Velásquez’s road was a little more unusual.
The Colombian, who moved to the US with his mother when he was two years old, was a standout at the youth level in local clubs, even receiving invites practice with the US youth national team setups in Florida. However, because he was not an American citizen, he wasn’t able to continue.
“They invited me to train, but when they realized I wasn’t a citizen, they couldn’t accept me,” Velásquez said.
With that door closed, Velásquez dropped out of school aged 17, obtained a tourist visa, and traveled to Spain to try and latch on with Barcelona’s or Espanyol's academy via a tryout.
“I went to try out for Barcelona and it went well,” he recalled. “But I only had a tourist visa and it was only for five days. I then went to Espanyol, but it didn’t work out there because they chose two others.”
With that door also closed, Velásquez journeyed back to the US to finish his schooling at tiny Spartanburg Methodist, a junior college in South Carolina. He hoped to make enough waves there to get the attention of a bigger program.
“No one knows where Spartanburg is,” joked Velásquez. “But they gave me a chance to play and I did well in my two seasons there.”
Velásquez’s 35 goals and 16 assists last season were proof enough that he was a rising star, and that earned him a three-day tryout in December with Real Salt Lake, and he won the admiration of head coach Jason Kreis and his technical staff, who kept in touch with Velásquez while he visited his mother, who moved back to Colombia a year ago.
“[RSL] told me they were interested in me and that maybe they’d pick me in the Supplementary Draft [next week],” said Velásquez. “Just a few days ago, they told me to keep an eye on the SuperDraft. I waited and waited anxiously, and when I saw my name, I went crazy.”
Just the beginning
With the dream of becoming a professional fulfilled, Veláquez turns the page on the end of an important chapter in his life. But with that, he begins a new one, one that promises to be long and tiring.
“Professional players always say, ‘It’s easy to get here, but it’s hard to stay,’” Velásquez said. “Hopefully I can make my debut with Real Salt Lake and thus share my achievement with my loved ones.”
While eager to join his new team and begin his new adventure, Velásquez will keep enjoying his moment and hopes his story serves as inspiration for others who dream of playing in MLS.
“When you set your mind to something, you can accomplish anything,” he said. “You’ve just got to have faith and fight for what you want.”