For Gilbert Fuentes, there was no question that his aim was to eventually join a professional soccer team. He just didn’t expect to be signed by the San Jose Earthquakes midway through his sophomore year at West High.
“At first it felt a little surreal,” said Fuentes, 15, from the Earthquakes’ training facility in Tucson, Arizona. “It has always been my dream to play soccer professionally.”
The Earthquakes announced last week that Fuentes, a midfielder, had been moved up to the First Team squad on a Homegrown Player contract, becoming the youngest player ever to join the local Major League Soccer team. Earthquakes defender Jacob Akanyirige, 16, of Pleasanton, was the team’s youngest player when he signed with the team in December.
In a statement released by the Earthquakes, team general manager Jesse Fioranelli noted that Fuentes, a player with the Earthquakes youth program since 2016, was called up based on his “technical ability and high soccer IQ” and had been recognized by the U.S. Soccer Federation as one of the top young players in the nation.
“We wanted to create a support system and mentoring program around him and Jacob that allows them to be welcomed and challenged for years to come, whether it be socially, scholastically, physically or mentally by having them join the First Team squad,” Fioranelli said. “We are confident the more veteran players and staff in our locker room will provide the ideal environment for them to grow to their full potential.”
Though Fuentes won’t be a regular part of the team’s starting lineup, he is confident he will get plenty of playing time. He said he was looking forward to practicing and playing with the older pros.
“At first I felt a little intimidated, because guys are 10 to 15 years older, but if I was selected, I should be able to compete with them,” he said.
The Earthquakes are now in their preseason, playing at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, and will begin the Major League Soccer season March 3 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose against Minnesota United FC.
Fuentes started playing soccer six years ago as a member of the Alternativo Futbol Club Milan team in Tracy. He also played with Ballistic United Soccer Club in Pleasanton before joining the Earthquakes youth academy in 2016.
“From there, I just moved up the ranks and was invited to train with the First Team,” he said, adding that he grew more devoted to the sport as he advanced. “I think it was about six months ago, when I finished my first season with the Earthquakes, that I wanted to make it my lifestyle.”
Based on his age, he is eligible for the Earthquakes U-17 academy season team, but he has been playing up a division. As a midfielder for the U-19 team, he scored three goals in eight games during the U.S. Soccer Development Academy 2017-18 season.
Fuentes has also been active with the U.S. Youth National Team since 2017. He was a member of the U-15 team that competed in August at the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football championships in Florida, including the championship game between USA and Mexico, which Mexico won 2-0.
He was called up to U.S. Soccer’s U-17 team for the Men’s Nike International Friendlies in November and was invited to the U.S. Soccer Youth National Team Summit Camp earlier in January.
Fuentes attended Jacobson Elementary School and Monte Vista Middle School before going to West High. Now that he has joined a pro soccer team, he will continue his education online, including courses that will prepare him for college.