[MLS SUPERDRAFT] No. 1 pick Andrew Farrell, the son of missionaries who spent most of his childhood in Peru, follows in the footsteps of former University of Louisville teammates Austin Berry and Nick DeLeon, the MLS's top rookies last season. None of the three was a youth national team player or highly recruited out of high school.
Louisville coach Ken Lolla, who turned a losing program into a national contender after arriving in 2005, first saw Farrell during his junior year in high school.
“He had a really good feel for the game,” Lolla says. “He was different than a lot of the kids in Louisville. It didn’t surprise me that he grew up somewhere different.”
Hunter and Ruth Farrell moved to Peru when Andrew was 5 as Presbyterian mission co-workers. Hunter helped lead an effort reduce the toxic emissions from an American-owned metal ore smelter that caused lead poisoning in more than 97 percent of the children in La Oroya, an Andean city of 35,000 people. Ruth worked with indigenous women's groups in Peru on health, education and economic development issues.
For Farrell, Peru was soccer paradise. He played pickup daily, at parks or in the street.
“We lived on a quiet street,” says Ruth. “So they could put rocks down to make the goals and play for hours. Once I calculated how much soccer he was playing, and it came to 24 hours a week.”
Andrew also joined Peruvian clubs, including the Semillero 2000 program run by former Peruvian national stars Cesar Cueto, Guillermo La Rosa andJorge Olaechea. When he excelled, they recommended he join the Esther Bentin Grande Academy, which produced Peruvian star Jefferson Farfan.
“He took a 1-hour bus ride across Lima everyday for practice,” Hunter says. “That’s how committed he was.”
Andrew had quickly become fluent in Spanish and teammates and coaches would assume he was Peruvian. When his club played against youth national team squads, the scouts were disappointed to discover him a U.S. citizen.
He cheered for Alianza Lima and regularly attended games with his parents.
“It was in the worst part of town,” Hunter says. “So yes, we went along. ... The atmosphere was amazing.”
Experiencing the fervid fan support got Andrew dreaming of a pro career for his favorite team. He was upset when his parents announced they were moving back the USA, for his older siblings to attend college. He even considered staying in Peru and living with a friend’s family, but that was a non-starter for Ruth and Hunter.
“It’s a very tough age for a kid to uproot,” says Hunter. “It wasn’t like we could tell him at the time, ‘It’ll work out fine and you’ll be the No. 1 pick in MLS.'”
Ruth said that Andrew quickly hooking up with a soccer club in Kentucky made his adjustment much easier.
“We called the premier club in the area,” Ruth says. “They told us they didn’t weren't interested in adding a player. So we contacted United 1996 FC [run by Muhamed Fazlagic], and they welcomed him with open arms.”
Farrell played several positions, mostly forward and even goalkeeper, but when Lolla spotted him he saw playing as a defensive midfielder.
“We felt his spot was going to be right back,” Lolla said. “In his freshman year, he started as a right back. Then we had an injury and needed him in deep midfield. The last two years he played in central defense. Especially the way we play, we want to keep the ball, so it’s important for our center backs to have the ability to play out of the back.”
The success of DeLeon and Berry, and Farrell getting picked No. 1 by the New England Revolution, reflects well on Lolla’s program. Especially considering that they weren’t, never having made a youth national team pool, considered blue-chip players out of high school.
“First we develop people,” Lolla says. “We take an active interest in their personal development. Teaching life lessons every single day. The game of soccer is a wonderful tool. Everything from managing your time, to goal-setting, to your attitude, mental preparation, planning ...
“When you look at the soccer aspect of it, I think what we do is develop men who think on the field. To solve problems and play at a very high tempo. And all of those lend themselves to making the transition to MLS.”
Farrell left Louisville after three seasons and is 11 classes short of a degree in Sports Management, which he intends to get and is enrolling in online classes. The dream he had of playing in front of the large crowds like he experienced as a fan in Alianza Lima’s Alejandro Villanueva Stadium is on the horizon. The biggest crowd he’d previously played in front of was 9,672 when Louisville fell, 1-0, to Akron in the 2010 College Cup final in his freshman year.
“Yes, I’ve always dreamed of playing in front of a huge crowd,” Farrell says. “But I’ve always enjoyed soccer whether people are watching or not.”