There's been so much speculation among America's soccer cognoscenti about where unattached up-and-coming star Shaq Moore would end up that when he signed with Huracan Valencia, a third-tier club in Spain, there were as many raised eyebrows as there were sighs of relief.
For Moore, who has been training with the club for most of the past year, it was a decision made with the heart.
“It's like a family club,” said Moore, 18, who is set as the US U-20 team’s right back heading into the U-20 World Cup, which kicks off this week in New Zealand. “Everyone really has each other's back. It's a smaller club, so everyone sticks together. We stick together like a family.
“I think that's what I like most about the club.”
Moore, who grew up near Miami and in the Atlanta suburbs, sees it as a starting point on what he hopes — and many other observers believe — will be a long and fruitful professional career. He's a natural defensive midfielder who can play at center back but has made a home for himself on the right. Perhaps more important than his versatility is his leadership and the kind of locker-room presence clubs covet.
He's brought those qualities to the US U-20s, who open Group A play on Saturday -- Friday night in the United States -- against Myanmar in Whangarei. Moore has started 18 of 20 matches during the current World Cup cycle, including five of the six games during the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in January.
“Shaq's done a good job,” said US coach Tab Ramos, who played in Spain's second division with Figueres and Real Betis in the early 1990s. “It's been a great cycle for him the last year and a half, and he's contributed to the team, he's been solid, he's been consistent, and we're happy with that.
“Now, finally, he has a contract overseas, so he will continue to grow as a player. That's important for us.”
Moore has quite the lineage, and a résumé to match.
His father, Wendell, was a Trinidad & Tobago international, and his older brother, C.J., is fighting for a spot with T&T's U-23 national team for the upcoming qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics. On his mother’s side is his uncle, former T&T goalkeeper Richard Goddard.
Moore was a star at the U.S. under-17 national team residency in Bradenton, Fla., where he captained the team that failed to qualify for the 2013 World Cup, and with the U-18 national side, with whom he first caught Huracan's attention during a tournament in the Canary Islands. And there's strong MLS interest: He's on the league's Player Allocation Rankings list, meaning, for now, he'd go through the Allocation process should he choose to play in MLS.
He trained last year with FC Dallas before heading to Spain in the summer.
“I gave MLS a lot of thought,” Moore said. “FC Dallas was a great club -- I have nothing but good things to say about them. They invest in their youth, as well, so that was something I thought about.”
Moore last year told Eurosport that his “dream team is Manchester City,” but that he expected he'd have to start elsewhere and that “Spain would be amazing, whether at a big club's academy or a smaller team's first-team set-up.”
Huracan, he said, was “a good match for me and a place where I can play and make my mistakes, just play freely.”
“I just wanted to start off somewhere and get my feet wet first,” he added, “and then try to make my way up.”
Huracan, formed in 2011, is looking to jump to Spain's Segunda Division, one level below La Liga. They drew, 1-1, on Saturday against UD Logrones in the away leg of a promotion quarterfinal and will be home for the second leg next weekend.
Moore trained with Huracan’s Juvenil A, or under-19, side much of the season, then was invited by head coach Toni Selignat to work with the first team. He's eligible to play since signing his first pro contract on May 10 but probably won't debut until next season.
Before that happens, there is the World Cup, where Moore expects to play a big role for a US team shouldering some bigger-than-usual expectations.
“I bring a lot of versatility and leadership, and I'm a guy who can make plays both offensively and defensively,” Moore said. “A guy who's part of the team and brings players together. A guy who can contribute any way he can, whether that's on the field or in the dressing room or off the field.”
He could be a pivotal player for US success in New Zealand, but he refuses to look too far ahead. He's focusing solely on the game with Myanmar, which will be followed by games June 2 against the host nation and June 6 against Ukraine, both in Auckland.
“You don't want to overlook any team going into the tournament,” he said. “Just take it one game at a time and gradually get better throughout the tournament, and I think we'll be fine.”