GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Back in April, it seemed like Orange County, Calif.-born Michael Hoyos' nascent and highly promising career was over.
The Estudiantes de La Plata forward was involved in a serious car crash that not only put him in intensive care for a week, but left hospital staff bemused that he even survived at all. Against the odds, he is back on the field, playing regularly for the Argentine club's reserve team and looking to earn a first-team place.
“I didn't know if I was going to be able [to play again],” Hoyos told MLSsoccer.com from Argentina. “I got hit on the head and I didn't know if I was going to be able to do anything, but I'm actually fine and doing great and just thankful that everything is going good.”
The former Irvine Strikers player moved to Argentina from Southern California when he was 15 and quickly became part of the Estudiantes youth set-up. He debuted for the first team in January 2010, smashing in the winning goal from outside the area against Boca Juniors in a preseason friendly.
Six months later, Hoyos was called up to Argentina's Under-20 squad and became a regular, apart from missing out on the U-20 World Cup because of the crash.
After winning a silver medal at the Pan American Games for Argentina last month, Hoyos is now ineligible for the Under-20s age group.
The common perception in US soccer circles is that, like Giuseppe Rossi, Hoyos is major young talent that slipped out of the clutches of the United States. However, Hoyos is adamant he has made no decision about his international future and is well aware that has the option to suit up for the US.
“I’ll always have the opportunity to go back to the United States and it's not a closed chapter on that yet,” Hoyos said. “I’ve not made a decision and, if it doesn't work out for me here, I'll hopefully have the opportunity to go for the United States.”
Hoyos hasn't been back to the States for two-and-a-half years due to his soccer commitments in Argentina, but his mother's side of the family is still based there and he has fond recollections.
“I miss everything,” he admitted. “Sight-seeing, fast-food, beaches, friends … ”
Despite what must have been a major culture shock moving from the US to Argentina at 15, Hoyos says that in terms of soccer, it wasn't that difficult for him to adapt to the intense culture surrounding the sport in Argentina.
“It wasn't hard to adapt because it was something I wanted to do and was willing to do,” Hoyos said.
He added: “But it was different there [in the United States]. You´d probably train two days a week, maybe three but mostly two, but over here it's every day and then playing at the weekends. Here, soccer is like if you go to school. You wake up, go to train and then play at the weekends, so it's really different.”
Hoyos understands that it is difficult in the United States with sports like American football, basketball and baseball competing with soccer, but believes the key is getting kids started young.
“Wherever you go [in Argentina] you see kids with a ball playing in the street, playing in the dirt," he said. "It's really different. [I think the key in the US] is teaching the young kids the basics of soccer from a young, young age and to keep [encouraging] them to play soccer.”
Down in Argentina, it can't do Hoyos any harm to have players of the quality of Juan Sebastián Verón around the club, and the Californian uses the opportunity to pick the brains of the Argentine legend.
“It's actually great because he knows a lot and he has a lot of experience to tell you what to do and what not to do,” he said. “He explains things that are very important for you and that are good in the future, not only in soccer but also in life in general. I think he's a great influence, not only in Estudiantes, but also in world soccer.”
But even with Verón in their ranks, the Pincharratas are having a poor season and are tied for last place in the Apertura 2011 tournament.
“We've had four coaches this year already," Hoyos said. "Right now, the coach is someone that is from the club and we're waiting for the finish and to see who comes next year, but they haven't told me anything about that yet."
The young Argentine-American's next goal on the path to getting back to where he was before the crash is to regain a place in the Estudiantes first team after a difficult 2011.
After that, could we see the youngster in the shirt of the Stars and Stripes? Don't rule it out just yet.
Tom Marshall can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @mexicoworldcup