By David Estrada | Photo: Josh Lane
“On the road again”, it’s what we do throughout the long USL season and this time we traveled to beautiful, historic San Antonio, Texas. Normally athletes do not get to explore much while traveling, but Coach Troy allows us to get dinner on our own, which gives us a chance to get to know the city.
During our meal out, I couldn’t help but reflect on the last time I was in San Antonio getting dinner with teammates. Last year, I played for the Seattle Sounders’ second team (now Tacoma Defiance) where it would vary if we had dinner together as a team or on our own. San Antonio happened to be a meal out last year too. But it isn’t just dinners during away games where I’m drawing parallels, it’s the development of young players and how NM United is seizing their opportunity.
The average age of the Sounders 2 team, which included a lot of Sounders Academy players, could not have been more than 18 and that’s only because at 30 years-old I skewed the average considerably. Our coach asked me to get a group together to share a healthy meal, but that can be tough with a group of teenagers. The walk to find a healthy spot was a little longer than expected and we passed a Chipotle, so we lost a few guys.
We settled on an Italian spot that was near our hotel. The restaurant ended up being a little up-scale, but we were glad to share a good healthy meal together. We walked back to our hotel along the San Antonio River, which comes alive at night.
I’m thinking about this specific dinner in 2018 because of one homegrown Sounders Academy player specifically, Danny Leyva. He earned his first professional start the day after our dinner. This kid was thrown to “the wolves” and remained completely unfazed. In fact, Danny was setting the tempo and controlling the midfield, that night he was the best player on the field, and he was only 16.
While playing for the second team I also assisted with the U-15s, during which I was able to watch Danny train where he consistently raised the level of play. To see his smooth transition to a professional level was a special moment for me. This year Danny signed with the Seattle Sounders and became the youngest player in the club’s history.
There is a wave of young talented players making their dreams come true by signing MLS and other professional contracts. You can expect to see these young players elevating the level of play in the US and making a difference in World Cups to come.
New Mexico United recently launched the first selection of players for its High-Performance Program directed by Zach Prince. This is a major step in helping young athletes from New Mexico realize their dreams of professional play. Homegrown players now have an environment and culture that facilitates growth. The question is not if, but when, the first homegrown player signs for New Mexico United. I hope you are as excited as I am to see that day come soon!