Fidel Barajas shows "great future" in first Real Salt Lake start


Welcome to MLS, Fidel Barajas.

The 17-year-old winger notched two assists in Real Salt Lake's 2-1 comeback victory Saturday at Vancouver Whitecaps FC, announcing himself to the league.

The breakout performance occurred during Barajas' first start after RSL acquired him this winter from USL Championship side Charleston Battery. And he's now just the sixth player in MLS history to record multiple assists in one game at 17 years old or younger.

"Yeah, that's cool!" Barajas laughed when told about the stat during his post-match media availability. "It's hard work since academy days. It's the love for the sport and I never imagined myself competing at this level at 17. It's really exciting."

A former San Jose Earthquakes academy standout, Barajas logged 5g/13a for Charleston in a breakout 2023 season. He was named the 2023 USL Championship Young Player of the Year, following a similar USL-to-MLS path as when RSL acquired Diego Luna from El Paso Locomotive in June 2022.

The talent and pedigree are obvious. All Barajas needed was a chance.

"I think that's the case for any young player, is you're always needing an opportunity and sometimes it shows up from injury, sometimes it shows up for international duty," RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni said after the match. Barajas got the start largely in place of Luna, who's with the US U-23s.

"But the most important thing and the hardest thing to preach from a coaching perspective is to be ready when that opportunity comes. Because oftentimes, they do not perform like Fidel did tonight."

Now that he's been properly introduced to MLS, all eyes will remain on Barajas and his development.

With both Mexico and the United States competing for his services, his international future will command plenty of interest on its own. Last year, the California native was a key player for Mexico at the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup after they won the 2023 Concacaf U-17 Championship.

"Fidel's greatest attribute is that he is always thinking of goals. He's not thinking about possession, he's not trying to keep the ball," Mastroeni noted. "He's trying to hit the back of the net every time he gets the ball. I think he hit a crossbar or post twice, set up both goals.

"The young man has got a great future."