A Connecticut record-holder with 149 goals in his high school career for Windham High, 18-year-old Alfonso Vazquez's path to the professional ranks has been far diffent to most prospects his age. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic
HARTFORD, Conn. – The truth is, when he showed up for Hartford Athletic’s open tryout in December, Alfonso Vazquez wasn’t expecting any of this.
“My high school coach and me, we were already getting ready for colleges,” Vazquez said recently. “I went to the tryouts thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to give it my all, it would be a dream come true if they would actually be interested in me,’ you know? So, I didn’t really expect nothing to happen, I just went out there and played my game.”
Fast-forward three months, and there’s Vazquez sitting at a press conference alongside Athletic owner Bruce Mandell and Head Coach Radhi Jaïdi. There’s a scarf draped around his shoulders, and cameras taping his every move as he’s introduced as the club’s newest signing.
So, how did the kid from Windham, Connecticut get here?
Alfonso Vazquez puts pen to paper as Hartford Athletic owner Bruce Mandell and Head Coach Radhi Jaidi look on in March. | Photo courtesy Jason York / New England Soccer Journal
It was certainly a path very different to the one most travel before signing their first professional contracts at the age of 17. There was club soccer, but not at any notable level. In fact, the biggest bullet-point on Vazquez’s resume was his astounding goalscoring record at Windham High School, where he recorded 149 goals in four seasons, a Connecticut high school record.
But when the Athletic’s coaches saw him on the field both against players of a similar age and those with more experience at the club’s invitational tryout in January, something stood out that said Vazquez was a player that could have a big future.
“The first look was that he had the potential to grab our attention and see what he would be able to do in a more challenging environment, which he did during the invitational tryouts,” said Luiz Silva, Hartford’s Director of Scouting and Performance Analysis. “That week [of invitational tryouts], he again showed us he was capable of making the next step, and that’s when we invited him to preseason.
“He had quality touch on the ball in terms of small touches inside the box for adjusting himself to finishing opportunities. As well, you could see his drive and his resilience going up against older and stronger players, so we could also have some insights about his background and how he was developing by himself and through the high school system.”
Still, even as things continued to progress during preseason – where Vazquez drew encouragement from the experienced heads around him already signed for the 2020 season – there was still something a little surreal for the 18 year old about what was happening.
“I never had that mindset of, ‘oh, I can make it far,’” said Vazquez, “because no-one from my hometown has made it professionally out of high school or college that I know of. So, I’m thinking, ‘why would I be the first?’ Then everything starts falling into place.”
At another time, a player like Vazquez might not have had this chance. He could easily have been another of those who simply slipped through the cracks because of circumstantial barriers and the lack of an accessible local professional club. He could have found another route to achieve the goal of joining the professional ranks but would have lost out on the chance to build his game at a higher level during a crucial moment for his development.
For the Athletic, Vazquez represents what they believe will be the first of many local talented Connecticut players who will find their first opportunity in the professional ranks at the club. The club is in the process of building out an academy program that will look to use the model set forth by the USL Academy platform, where connections to an organization like the Columbia Windham Soccer Alliance – where Vazquez grew his game with Coach Jerry Phillips – can be created to bring as many talented players from the region together into a professional environment.
Signed to a professional deal, Alfonso Vazquez is hoping the next few weeks will offer an opportunity for him to make his debut for Hartford Athletic as the Championship season resumes. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic
“What we want ultimately is to provide these players, Connecticut-based players, the opportunity to reach the professional level,” said Silva. “We wanted to make sure we identify the players, we provide them the training process to develop as much as they can, and then in having them in the community itself about how we want to be seen in many different respects, our values, our culture, their identification with our club and our community as well, and having them fulfilling their potential.
“This is the way I believe in, and in the long term we will certainly have players coming through our youth system that will have a role in our [First Team] roster.”
And for those players, Vazquez’s story will be the one they’ll aim to emulate. That may add a little pressure, but it’s an idea he’s excited to represent.
“That’s what I like a lot, that I can motivate and inspire people,” said Vazquez. “All the kids who are or were in the same situation, I can talk with them and tell them that you can do it, you’ve just got to put your mind to it. Anybody can do it, you can do whatever you want. The sky’s the limit.”
It certainly appears that way for Vazquez, whose next goal is to impress enough with the Athletic that a chance to compete in Major League Soccer or Europe is his next step. As Hartford gears up for its return to play next week in the Championship against the New York Red Bulls II, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to play his first professional minutes in the colors of Connecticut’s club.
But what might make for the biggest moment this season is when Vazquez gets to step onto the field at Dillon Stadium for the first time, with dad Alfonso Sr., mom Catalina, and his older siblings and friends in the stands.
After the whirlwind of the past seven months that began when he stepped onto the stadium’s turf last December, Vazquez’s time will have arrived.
“Once the games start and my family’s there, people from my hometown coming to support, I think that’s when it will really, actually hit me,” he said.
“This is real.”