De La Fuente has been thriving for the U.S. U20 aspect as a winger, starring in its 2-Zero defeat of Nigeria on Monday night time. PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Photos
BARCELONA, Spain — You may take the boy out of the US, however you may’t take the US out of the boy. Konrad De La Fuente, born in 2001, has spent seven years residing in Barcelona, however it’s LeBron James, not Lionel Messi, whom he appears to for inspiration as he tries to make it at one of many world’s largest soccer golf equipment.
Earlier than LeBron, although, there was Ronaldinho. De La Fuente was born in Miami to Haitian mother and father however spent his childhood in Florida idolising the Brazilian playmaker. When he was 10, he moved to Barcelona. He was picked up by Barca a few years later after impressing for native group Damm and has spent the previous 4 years progressing via the membership’s La Masia academy.
A “dynamic winger” in his personal phrases — “quick, skillful, tough, I prefer to take gamers on,” he tells ESPN FC in April — he’s at present a part of Barca’s U19 aspect however did make his B-team debut earlier this season and could possibly be promoted to the reserves completely after the summer season. However first, he is with the U.S. U20 group because it appears to make a splash on the U20 World Cup. After narrowly dropping its opening group sport to Ukraine, the U.S. defeated Nigeria 2-Zero on Monday to depart a transparent path to the knockout rounds with a constructive outcome in opposition to Qatar on Might 30.
“It was a dream,” De La Fuente says in an American accent, which he has not misplaced, as he remembers the second his mother and father instructed him they might be uprooting to Barcelona. “Each weekend I might be watching Ronaldinho, he was my idol. On the time he was enjoying at Barca. I used to be like, man, I might wanna get there, ? I’ve at all times dreamed and labored exhausting since I used to be a bit child to make it come true.
“As soon as we got here right here, I at all times knew that this was an excellent alternative for me to get scouted. I knew that they had scouts in all places. It was only a matter of me enjoying effectively and them seeing me. I am glad I acquired the prospect.”
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Now that he is in Barcelona and enjoying for the membership, it is highlights of one other sports activities star he seeks out at residence. He lives simply across the nook from the membership’s out-of-city coaching floor along with his mother and father and his brother and spends his break day the pitch following the motion on the courtroom again within the U.S.
“My best athlete idol is definitely LeBron,” he provides. “Despite the fact that I’m a [soccer] participant, LeBron is my best idol. It is simply how a lot he works, retains himself in form, his mentality going into video games, the best way he conducts himself on the courtroom, the way it’s not at all times about him, it is about making the group higher … That is simply the precise mentality to have, as nice as you’re, that is what it is about.”
It is the recommendation a shy De La Fuente handed on to a bunch of youngsters from Barca’s New York academy in April. He met them as a part of a meet and greet organised to coincide with the Barca Academy World Cup, which featured 2,100 younger gamers and 13 of the membership’s U.S- and Canada-based academies. They requested him what they needed to do to make it within the sport — a query U.S. Soccer has been asking itself since failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia final summer season. Nevertheless, there are causes to be hopeful. In De La Fuente, the U.S. has a 17-year-old representing the five-time European champions for the subsequent technology to look as much as. He is not the one expertise rising, both. Christian Pulisic, who has simply swapped Borussia Dortmund for Chelsea, is the plain instance, however there will likely be lots extra on show on the Below-20 World Cup in Poland this month.
The U.S. kicked off its marketing campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Ukraine on Friday night time however rebounded in model with a 2-Zero victory over Nigeria. De La Fuente performed the total 90 minutes and believes that he is a part of an American squad that may ship a message to the soccer world.
“It is a main event,” he says. “I am assured we will go far in it. I simply hope I might help the group get so far as doable. Within the U.S. we’ve got some nice expertise proper now. I simply hope that at this World Cup we will show to everybody that we’re coming.”
Eleven members of the U.S. U20 squad play in Europe. De La Fuente is the youngest by a distance, however he is already forging a powerful relationship with the opposite American kids enjoying on the continent, resembling Paris Saint-Germain’s Timothy Weah and Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards. Brady Scott, Chris Gloster, Alex Mendez, Ulysses Llanez and Sebastian Soto are additionally a part of a rising American contingent in Germany with which De La Fuente says he’s in fixed communication. Such long-lasting bonds typically present the platform for sustained success.
“With the U20s and the youthful guys, we’re actually shut pals,” De La Fuente explains. “We speak virtually daily, largely with the fellows in Germany, it is actually cool. It is good that they are enjoying effectively and progressing, too. I’m glad for them.”
De La Fuente is not the primary American at Barcelona however he is on a promising path to the primary group. It is anticipated he will likely be promoted subsequent season to the B group, the place he can get additional publicity. Edwin van Zandvoort/Soccrates/Getty Photos
As with most footballers, the objectives are short-term for De La Fuente however it’s not possible to not ask what comes subsequent. May he change into the primary American to play for Barca’s first group? Or will he comply with Ben Lederman — who left Barca final summer season for Belgian membership KAA Gent — out of the Camp Nou door?
It is such a troublesome query to reply when a participant continues to be creating, however folks on the membership speak extremely of his professionalism, his way of life off the pitch and his capacity on it. The identical can’t be stated for everybody who will get an opportunity to stay their dream at La Masia, as many change into distracted by the eye and the social media following.
“Konrad needs to achieve success and make it on the prime in a fashion which says quite a bit about him,” a coach at La Masia tells ESPN FC. “He’s fully devoted to soccer. With that angle, he is already gained half the battle and I’m positive he’ll hold getting alternatives to impress within the coming months. He has his head in the precise place.”
First-team supervisor Ernesto Valverde often calls up B-team gamers to coach with the primary group. Sometimes he’ll use a number of the U19s, too, to make up the numbers and so he can solid his eye over youngsters rising from the academy. De La Fuente has not but rubbed shoulders with Messi and the opposite first-team stars in a coaching session, however Valverde and his employees have been protecting an in depth eye on his growth.
“Konrad’s a very good participant,” one member of Valverde’s teaching group tells ESPN FC. “He has character on the ball and he is courageous. We actually like him. He is ready to strive issues. If it does not come off, he tries once more. If you wish to play out broad, it’s important to try this, it’s important to use all of your high quality and your tempo and Konrad at all times does that basically effectively.”
“Yeah, he is high quality!” provides Marcus McGuane, the English defensive midfielder at present with Barcelona B. “It is also been good having him as a result of he clearly speaks English! He is American however his Spanish is ideal. It has been good having him round, serving to as a translator and stuff.
“I like [Konrad] quite a bit. He ought to be with the B group [next season], yeah.”
Although the U.S. dropped its World Cup opener to Ukraine on Friday, De La Fuente was nonetheless a relentless menace all through the 2-1 loss. Boris Streubel – FIFA/FIFA by way of Getty Photos
A number of months in the past, there have been coaches on the membership who have been sure De La Fuente would make it on the prime degree, though they have been not sure whether or not that might translate into common minutes for Barca’s first group. However after a powerful season, the message has begun to alter. “We now have to provide him time — a 12 months or two with the B group — after which see what’s finest for him and for the membership,” Valverde’s assistant provides.
The membership has been significantly impressed with the position he performed within the run to the UEFA Youth League semifinal this season. Barca finally misplaced to Chelsea on penalties following a 2-2 attract regular time, however De La Fuente did arrange the opening aim with a trademark run and cross from the precise. He says these European journeys, when the U19s fly and lodge with the primary group, which performs its Champions League video games on the identical time, are an eye-opener into the world of soccer at an elite degree.
“You be taught quite a bit enjoying in opposition to one of the best gamers on the earth in our age group, touring with the primary group and having the identical routine as them,” he explains. “It is an excellent expertise as a participant and also you develop quite a bit.” De La Fuente hopes that have will serve to propel him into the primary group at Camp Nou, however he’s not setting any targets. It has been robust to get to the place he’s now and he needs to benefit from the current earlier than he worries concerning the future.
“Once I first acquired right here it was completely different as a result of I wasn’t used to the environment of being right here,” he provides. “That is such an enormous membership. As I matured, as I acquired older, it acquired quite a bit higher, quite a bit simpler. I am simply glad I’m nonetheless right here and centered on enjoying my finest. Proper now, the main target is the U20 World Cup and Barca. They’re thrilling issues.”
Extra reporting from Moises Llorens contributed to this story.