Salgado Making His Move
It’s been a good week for 16-year-old Omar Salgado.
He scored his first international goal in his debut with the U.S. U-20 MNT at the on-going Milk Cup on Monday evening - the same day that he signed a contract with Major League Soccer.
And they say people don’t like Mondays.
The Milk Cup in Northern Ireland is one of the most prestigious events on the 2010 calendar for the U-20 MNT, and Salgado, the youngest player on the U.S. roster, has made his mark in just his second event under head coach Thomas Rongen.
“Being here is a great experience,” said Salgado. “I’m honored to wear the shirt and it has been really amazing. It was a great feeling (to score). It helped us to win and to get the three points to keep going in the tournament.”
But it was a long journey to Northern Ireland for the El Paso, Texas, native. At 15 years old, the fledgling professional moved nearly 1,000 miles away from his parents to Guadalajara, Mexico, to play for CD Chivas at the beginning of 2009. Though he had trained with U.S. youth national teams in the past and was on Rongen’s radar, Salgado traveled to Spain with a Mexican youth team early this year.
But like many young players who move far from home, Salgado had a difficult time adjusting to the new lifestyle and having few friends his own age. Despite his appreciation for the opportunity Chivas had given him to grow as a professional, Salgado waited for a chance to return to the United States.
“It was a very different experience for me and I suffered a lot because my family wasn’t there,” he said of his opportunity in Guadalajara. “It was a different country, the life was really different from what I was used to and I was alone. In the end, it really helped me out with soccer, but I wasn’t happy with my life there.”
In July, Salgado finally got the chance he had been waiting for. He was one of 24 players called into a training camp with Rongen in San Jose in late June - perfect timing as he contemplated his next career move.
Salgado had the chance to play against the San Jose Earthquakes twice during that training camp. After seeing first hand how an MLS team practices and plays, the 6-foot, 4-inch forward knew that the U.S. league was where he wanted to be.
“[The camp] was really fun,” said Salgado. “I wanted to play for the United States and I got the opportunity so I took it and came to San Jose. We played against the Earthquakes and we really got to experience what it was like to play against an MLS team, and we saw how they trained. It really helped me to see how I would do. I wanted to sign with MLS and I got a lot of help from everyone here.”
As he prepares to enter the 2011 MLS SuperDraft in January, he’ll train with various teams to gauge his level of play as well as interest from the clubs. In the mean time, he’ll continue to grow his international game as the Milk Cup continues.
“It’s been great – we trained for about four days before and then we had the opening ceremony, we walked through the town here and there were about 6,000 people or more,” he said of the event. “Then we went to the stadium and they introduced us. Yesterday the game was at a local stadium and there were a lot of people there as well.”
The Texan, who was born to an American mother and a Mexican father with Spanish heritage, cites his favorite team as Real Madrid and hopes to one day play with the La Liga giants.
Born in 1993, Salgado is also age-eligible to play in 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, but his stature and experience have prepared him to compete against older players.
“My goal is first to go to the World Cup next year,” Salgado said. “Coach Rongen has me at forward, sometimes with another teammate and sometimes alone. I’ve been doing well there and helping the team so I think it’s a good fit. I think being a bigger guy helps me a lot, especially with competing against older players like I’m doing right now.”
Next up for Salgado and the U.S. team is Friday’s Elite Section championship game at the Milk Cup and an opportunity to win the tournament for the first time since 2005.
Though soccer isn’t exactly the standard nine to five, Salgado hopes to help his team to victory and finish the work week as well as it started.