Different paths to stardom (Sebastian's Story)

By Mike Woitalla

What especially impressed the South Carolina youth coach about the boy wasn't what he did with his Carolina Elite club – although Andrew Hyslop was very impressed -- it was the soccer Sebastian Velasquez played own his own.

“There’s areas in Greenville where you’ll find hundreds of kids and adults getting together on weekends and at night,” says Hyslop, the co-director of Carolina Elite, where Velasquez played from U-12 to U-17. “There’s also some indoor here and Sebastian’s the guy you’d be seeing playing at 2 am with adults over at the indoor center.

“Obviously, that’s what we as coaches want. We want kids who play more on their own than on the training fields.”

The most remarkable rookie early on in the MLS season must be Velasquez. The 21-year-old midfielder, who started Real Salt Lake’s first two games and set up goals in both wins, took a non-traditional route to the U.S. pro league.

Velasquez did not play for a U.S. Soccer Development Academy club. He did play high school ball (2007 state champ with Greenville H.S.). He didn’t attend a Division I college. He played two years of junior college ball at Spartanburg Methodist. The No. 36 pick in the MLS 2012 MLS draft, Velasquez was the first JC draft pick in six years.

At age 2, he moved from Medellin, Colombia, to the USA with his mother. He spent most of his youth ball with Carolina Elite before teaming up with fellow future Real Salt Lake draft pick Enzo Martinez on the Discoveries SC team that won the 2009 U-18 USYS national title.

Velasquez left high school after his junior year, got his GED and tried out with Barcelona and Espanyol in Spain, but returned home disappointed until he ended up at Spartanburg Methodist, where in two years he scored 55 goals and made 33 assists in 33 games. His overseas tryouts made him ineligible to play for Clemson, but Tigers’ alum Miles Joseph, now assistant coach at Real Salt Lake, directed Velasquez to the MLS Combine.

He was back in Medellin with his mother when he heard he got drafted. “I started to cry,” Velasquez told “I was so happy. I didn’t watch the ceremony, but I saw my name online and was shocked.”

Hyslop is quick to point out he’s not taking credit for Velasquez’s rise -- “many had a hand in that” -- but when Hyslop hears talk that the only pathway to soccer success lies with the Development Academy, or that certain college coaches turn away from evaluating players based on what league they compete in, he points to Velasquez as a reminder that players “get where they want to go in a variety of ways.”

“I think the Academy is a viable, great option, but at the same time, we’re also providing provide opportunities and developing players,” says Hyslop. “There’s no cookie-cutter guaranteed way to do that. I certainly don’t have all the answers. With the size of the country, it’s inevitable there’s going to be different avenues to reach a goal.”

Hyslop believes youth soccer, with the rise of the Development Academy and its increased influence -- which includes discouraging of high school play -- is at a crossroads.

“It’s not about Sebastian Velasquez,” he says. “It’s not about Carolina Elite Academy. It’s not necessarily about the USSF Academy. It’s really about taking a look and asking can we make sure we develop every possible player in this country? There’s more than one way to do it.

“We have to decide, are we going recognize everybody? Or are we only going to recognize some?

“It makes good sense to cast the net far and wide.”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper
, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

6 comments about "Different paths to stardom (Sebastian's Story) ".
  1. Michael Anderson, March 21, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.

    Thanks for this story SA. It's nice to hear a club coach tell it like it is and not be scared that the USSF marketing machine will come down on him.

  2. Kent James, March 21, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.

    Playing pick-up encourages creativity, ball skills, and the joy of playing. Playing on a team, especially a high level, competitive team, encourages team work, discipline, and tactical understanding. Good players need both. And it is especially important that players get to play with players who are older than they are (so they can pick up the subtleties) as well as players who are younger than they are (so they can be teachers). I sometimes get concerned that in our focus on pushing players to play on very competitive teams, they lose some of the confidence-building, creative experiences that they can get from pick-up that will inspire them to do the work on their own that all players at the highest level do. And in the current context, for some players, high school soccer is a confidence building experience that they need to compete at higher levels. There is no one route to stardom, and encouraging a broad variety of playing experiences helps players find the best route for them. So in our focus on developing talent, lets not forget to keep looking for talent outside the most obvious channels, as was the case with Velasquez.

  3. Robin Russell, March 22, 2012 at 5:30 a.m.

    A key to this player's 'late development' may be his 'late ' birthdate relative to other players as his birthday is in November!
    My former colleague at the FA Craig Simmons at the Football Association has researched the influence that date of birth has on football development

    (NB the school year in the UK begins on September 1st )

  4. Bart Schultz, March 22, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.

    Good article, it reminds me of recent article you wrote about the Mexican American players who are growing up and playing here but leave to play professionally somewhere else. Velasquez earned tryouts for some top Spanish teams as a High Schooler- someone was clearly scouting him, but not for the US. Obviously there is a large pool of players, coaches and scouts out there flying under the radar of the mainstream US soccer- but not the rest of the world.

  5. Luis Arreola, March 22, 2012 at 11:56 p.m.

    Bart, or maybe just maybe the USA is blatantly ignoring these players. Benny Corona was not seriously courted by the usmnt until he was scouted for the Mexican national U23s team. He scored 1/2 the goals today. It is way too obvious now.

  6. Jack Niner, March 23, 2012 at 11:08 a.m.

    Many in USSF, the DA's and college coaches want you to believe that the there aren't any worthy players outside of their 'Cabal' controlled system. Guess what, there are MANY SValasquez's and potential SValasquez's out there in America. But the Hucksters running the DA's and USSF don't want you to see or hear about them. It's pretty simple - follow the $$$ and you'll soon learn why...

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