SANDY, Utah — A year ago, Sebastián Velásquez was just about to finish his sophomore season of soccer at Spartanburg Methodist College, a junior college in South Carolina. Today, the 21-year-old is pondering a possible role in one of the most important matches of the season for Real Salt Lake, when they travel to play the Seattle Sounders on Oct. 17.
Four RSL players were called into their respective national teams' camps for another session of World Cup qualifying — Álvaro Saborío (Costa Rica), Will Johnson (Canada), Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando (USA), while Luis Gil was called to the US Under-20 national team.
Beckerman, Johnson and Gil all play in the midfield and their availability for the Seattle game stands in question because of the minutes they may rack up during two international games in five days. And with midfielder Ned Grabavoy's status for the game still uncertain as he recovers from a quadriceps strain, there is a very real possibility that Velásquez could see time either as a starter or as a substitute against the Sounders.
But he tries not to let that thought consume him.
"Obviously, it does," said Velásquez when asked whether the possibility of playing time in that high-stakes match has crossed his mind. "But I would rather just wait until game time to see if I am actually on the pitch. But it is exciting. It is exciting to think that I may get a chance, that I may be back on the pitch."
Velásquez, who was born in Medellín, Colombia, but moved to the United States with his mother when he was only 14 months old, last saw game action Sept. 18 in the club's 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League win over Tauro in Panama, and before that on July 14 in a 5-0 drubbing at San Jose. Even though his playing time has been sporadic, he still approaches every day the same way.
"You need to use the same mentality, same preparation so when you are called upon, you are ready," said Velásquez. "You look at it as an opportunity, so hopefully if I get out on the field, I'll make the most of it."
Velásquez is still adjusting to playing at the pro level, a significant step up from the junior college game.
"It was a huge jump. It is just completely different. Here, everyone is a professional, living off playing," he said. "In college, you're playing, but you're having fun and doing school work and different things. Now, you only focus on football."
But there are a few specifics he is focusing on to help adapt.
"Speed of play, my body size – I am little bit smaller than a lot of the guys in here – and your foot work always has room to improve. I actually gained four pounds. I was really excited about it — trying to get meaty," he joked.
So whether he sees an opportunity in RSL’s next game or not, Velásquez is always working to get on the field.
"Every day I talk to coaches about it," he said. "Whenever I have time, I sit down and talk about it. They say to me, 'We are polishing you, we're getting you ready for the future of the team.'
“I mean, obviously when we get opportunities and we get called upon, when midfielders are needed, we're there, but I am still working to learn and get better,” continued Velásquez. “Most of the guys, the core group has been here for five years, and I am working to be in that next group, that next group that they will rely upon."