AMSTERDAM – The word came in the middle of last week for 18-year-old Rubio Rubin: He wasn't just going to make his European debut on Sunday. He'd be getting the start.
Just two games into the new Dutch Eredivisie season and less than three weeks after officially inking a four-year contract with FC Utrecht, the former Portland academy prospect went all 90 minutes to help his new club to a last-minute 2-1 win over Willem II.
With that first taste of European top-flight action, the US youth international can readily admit: It was easily the most difficult opponent he's ever faced.
"I knew, with the injuries, that my opportunity was going to come," Rubin told MLSsoccer.com after the game. "The toughest part is the physicality of the players at the top level, that's for sure. It's something I have to get used to."
Rubin has been taking all sorts of lessons since initially training with Utrecht a little more than a year ago. He returned to the club in March just after his 18th birthday to continue his advanced tactical and technical education.
The hardest drilling from the Utrecht staff has come in the technical area, says Rubin, who arrived already quite comfy in the typical Dutch 4-3-3 set from his time in the US Soccer program. Still, he believes the biggest key to achieving success and not struggle at this new level rests between his ears.
"[I work a lot on] being able to play one-touch, always looking forward and trying to find players' feet, and moving off the ball," he offered. "The level is just so much higher – it's all about the first touch, that's the key.
"The difference is having the confidence to make plays instead of always making the easy pass, being able to hold on to the ball, all that stuff."
Apparently, Rubin's confidence level is already high enough for manager Robby Alflen. While the starting nod came with his experienced attack stable suffering an injury crisis, Rubin fought his way into Sunday's starting lineup with a strong preseason.
He says he did not reach an agreement to join the club this past spring expecting to be involved in Eredivisie action so quickly. It was simply his aim.
Rubin, an Oregon native of Guatemalan and Mexican heritage, has certainly come a long way over a short time. Two years ago, he was starring for the Westside Timbers, an academy team later incorporated by its MLS namesake in Portland.
He moved on to the Bradenton Academy in Florida while starting to make a name for himself with the US Under-17 national team. Goals against the likes of Brazil (twice), Chile and archrivals Mexico caught the eye of U-20 boss Tab Ramos, who called up the forward to the higher age level last year.
In April, Rubin bagged three goals as the team finished runners-up to Argentine giants River Plate in the Dallas Cup, including an overtime winner in the semifinals.
Through all the excitement over his fast progress, some might wonder how a club known for being an Eredivisie middler managed to snare the highly rated US youth international. Rubin did have enticing offers from clubs in other name brand European leagues, but he simply felt most at home with the Red & White Army.
"I thought the system in Holland was a good fit for me," Rubin said. "Utrecht were one of the clubs who wanted to put something on the table for me. I was excited to be here and I know they were excited to have me, so the chemistry was there. This is the right club for me."