FOX Soccer Exclusive
Spanish passport paving Salgado's path
Omar Salgado recently celebrated his 18th birthday in the New York area: taking in the sights; buying himself some presents; enjoying the life of a teenage professional soccer player.
One thing Salgado didn’t get for his 18th birthday was playing time. He spent the night of his birthday on the bench in Vancouver’s 1-1 tie vversus the New York Red Bulls, an unused sub who had to be wondering when his next chance to play would come.
As a disappointing as that day might have been, a late birthday present he received a few days later could go a long way in determining where Salgado’s playing time will come from in the coming years.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Arguably the best playmaker in MLS at the moment, Rosales continued to build on an MLS MVP caliber season by helping set up all three goals in Seattle’s 3-0 win vs. DC United on Saturday. Rosales has been one of the biggest revelations of the MLS season and his game against DC was another example of the impact he can have. His performance helped him edge out Mike Magee (LA Galaxy), Danny Koevermans (Toronto FC) and Alvaro Fernandez (Seattle) for this week’s honors.
Salgado received a Spanish passport last week, having successfully applied for one through a Spanish grandfather. European passports are like golden tickets to contracts overseas for Americans, and Salgado happens to to be one of the most highly-regarded young prospects in the United States.
Salgado is a foreign scouts dream. He’s a 6-foot-4 forward with good technical ability and impressive speed for a player his size. He’s bilingual, possesses marketable looks, and has shown considerable improvement in the two years since he was left the US Under-17 Residency Program after not being considered good enough.
Those characteristics haven’t resulted in steady playing time in MLS, though. Vancouver has taken a cautious approach with their first draft pick, even in the midst of a disappointing season. Salgado has played in 13 games this season, managing just 487 minutes this season. That’s three times less than any other player taken in the top four of the 2011 MLS Draft.
“When we drafted Omar we were pretty clear in talking about the future and not putting any pressure on a young kid to have to live up to any expectations,” said Vancouver interim head coach and general manager Tom Soehn. "It’s going to take time to transition. He’s had minutes this year, but one thing we didn’t want to do is rush him so we’re still focusing on his development. That comes through training and taking the U-20 trips and things like that.”
“I’ve talked to the coaches and they’ve told me to be patient,” Salgado said. “It’s frustrating, and it would be a little easier to adapt if I were getting more playing time, but I just have to be patient.”
ROOKIE OF THE WEEK
The Portland Timbers attacker showed why he was so highly regarded heading into the 2011 MLS Draft, flashing the speed and moves that made him such a threat at the University of Akron. His header goal capped a 3-0 Portland blowout of New England, but it was his consistent tormenting of the Revs defense is what ultimately gave Nagbe the edge over fellow first-round pick Will Bruin, who scored a vital game-winning goal for Houston over San Jose.
“I wish I could have done a lot better in the minutes that I have played,” Salgado said. “I need time to adapt and playing every four or five weeks, like we do in the reserve league, makes it difficult to really get into a rhythm of playing.
He has made the most of his chances playing on Vancouver’s reserve team, having scored four goals, tied for the second most in the MLS reserve division. Where Salgado has continued to impress scouts though is on the youth national team front. A one-time member of the Mexican Under-20 set-up, Salgado helped the US Under-20 national team win the 2010 Milk Cup as a 16-year old, and earlier this year he had established himself as a starter in Under-20 World Cup qualifying on a talented squad that ultimately failed to qualify for the World Cup.
With a Spanish passport now in his possession, Salgado is sure to draw transfer interest, with clubs from England, Spain and the Netherlands having already expressed interest even before he had a passport that will make him more appealing to European teams because it makes him easier to fit on their rosters.
“It’s opening a lot of extra doors for me, and should make things a lot easier for me,” Salgado said. “Hopefully this off-season I can get to train with some teams and be seen.”
When Vancouver drafted Salgado in January, there was talk from the Whitecaps camp of Salgado’s transfer value definitely playing a role in him being Vancouver’s pick as a No. 1 draft choice.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
The Seattle Sounders weren’t the only team to blow out an opponent in MLS play this past weekend, but they were the only team to do that as well as register a CONCACAF Champions League win, which was enough to make the Sounders the top team in MLS for yet another week. Their victory against Herediano, on the road in Costa Rica, was the lone victory for any of the five MLS participants in CONCACAF Champions League last week, and their 3-0 dusting of DC United was one of the better team efforts of the past weekend.
“Right now our focus needs to be to make sure we develop him mentally and physically,” Soehn said. “One thing with Omar is he’s a very intelligent guy and that helps him. When you have conversations with him you realize that he gets it.
“Whatever happens in the future happens,” Soehn said. “But right now our focus is just to continue improving him as a player and making sure that any time he gets a chance he shows well.
"We want to set him up to succeed and make sure he’s ready,” Soehn said. “We’ll continue to nurture him and be patient.”
Being patient with Salgado is going to become much tougher this off-season if he goes over to Europe and impresses more scouts. In fact, it isn’t a stretch to call Salgado the MLS player most likely to make a winter transfer move. He wouldn’t be the first MLS teenager to make a European transfer move (Michael Bradley left MLS after the 2005 season to join Dutch club Heerenveen and Jozy Altidore moved on an eight-figure transfer to Villarreal in 2008).
Unlike those two US national team regulars, Salgado would be making a transfer move without having established himself as an MLS starter. That would certainly be a first, and while some might worry that such a precedent could be a dangerous sign of things to come as MLS brings in more young players, the reality is Salgado is a rare case because of that Spanish passport he just received.
Without it, Salgado would just be another one of Major League Soccer’s promising teenage prospects waiting to go from prospect to impact player, likely years away from a potential transfer abroad.
With that Spanish passport, Salgado is now a promising teenage prospect who could make a multi-million dollar move to Europe this winter, which makes the passport the best birthday present he could have hoped for.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.