CARSON, Calif. -- It was impossible to ignore the bright orange posterboard in the StubHub Center stands earlier this week that read “Go Bryan.”
Chivas USA fell to 10-man FC Dallas in heartbreaking fashion on that night, but Rojiblancos midfielder Bryan de la Fuente, who made his return to MLS following a hiatus of nearly three years, had plenty to be thankful for. He scored his first professional goal -- the day after he signed with the Goats -- and afterward looked toward the bleachers and nearly broke into tears. It had been a long, difficult journey back to the pro ranks.
“When I was out of contract, I was a coach at a friend’s soccer academy for kids in South Gate,” said de La Fuente, whose last appearance came in late 2010. “The kids were supporting me in the stands. It was really special.”
De la Fuente, 21, was subbed on once for his only minutes of action during his two-year stint with Chivas USA. He left for Mexico to pursue an opportunity in Primera Division, but that didn’t work out, and de la Fuente was left without a contract. He worked his way back through the Reserve League and signed with the club Tuesday before scoring a feel-good goal Wednesday with the Goats missing the suspended Tristan Bowen and Gabriel Farfan.
It remains to be seen if de la Fuente will start again on Sunday, when Chivas USA host the New York Red Bulls (5 pm ET, watch on UniMas), but either way, he's thrilled just to be in the mix at all.
“I had to train double or triple time,” de la Fuente said. “It was hard to get in with another team. I was practicing by myself and playing in Sunday leagues. It was hard not to have the opportunity. Now that Chivas USA gave me a second chance, it’s something that I have had inside me since I left.”
Head coach José Luis “Guero” Real intends to integrate younger players into his lineup the remainder of the season and described de la Fuente as an “excellent young player” following the loss.
“It’s incredible,” de la Fuente said. “There are no words to describe the feeling of playing with the first team again. It’s been hard; it’s been a tough year for me. After [coming back from Mexico] and being out of contract and to come back to the team that saw me at the bottom and gave me my first chance professionally feels amazing.”
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De la Fuente scored in the first half by sending a shot past Raúl Fernández after Marco Delgado chipped in a pass from the top of the box. Following a brief celebration with teammates, he closed his eyes, almost in disbelief, before looking to the sky.
“First I couldn’t believe it,” de la Fuente said. “I thought the ball was going to go over the goal. But then when I scored I just thanked God because of the opportunity and some tears came out of my eyes.
“I always imagined that [moment] since the first time I signed in 2010. Life happens. That wasn’t my time. I’m glad now it’s happening so fast. I’ll take it.”