‘My goal is to make it to the big leagues!’
By Joey Gomez
Max Morales dreams about playing in Major League Soccer and believes he has found the right path to get there.
Morales, 12, says he relates to his soccer hero, world famous forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who began training at a young age and would eventually become one of the greatest soccer players in the world.
Training at Atlas Soccer Academy in Mission, Morales says with the proper instruction, he can make his dream come true.
“It’s athletic, aggressive, and fun,” Morales says of the experience at Atlas. “My goal is to make it to the big leagues. I train four days a week. It keeps me in shape. It makes me feel good to be here, to play, have fun, and be aggressive, and to win.”
Affiliated with the professional Mexican soccer organization Club Social y Deportivo Atlas de Guadalajara, Morales is in good company. Several former players from Atlas have gone on to play at the professional level.
One of their alumni, midfielder Miguel “Mikey” Lopez, was selected by Sporting Kansas City with the 14th overall pick (1st round) of the MLS SuperDraft in 2013.
Lopez spent two seasons at North Carolina and started all 21 matches he appeared in during 2012, scoring two goals and one assist. In 2011, he was voted the ACC Freshman of the Year after appearing in 25 matches (21 starts) and scoring three goals and four assists.
Lopez was also a regular call-up on the US Under-20 national team, as well as the U.S. Under-18 National Team member during two training camps (February and April), and he participated in two U.S. Under-18 National Team trips to Argentina and Portugal.
Another one of their players, Roberto Hernandez, was selected to the U.S. Under-15 Boys’ National Team under head coach Hugo Perez. Hernandez was selected to an 18-player squad that participated in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase in December at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
“Even top-level coaches tell us that our kids are well known, but the truth is there is no magic to it. It’s just a lot of hard work, said Atlas Soccer Academy director, Juan Cuellar. “It’s also making sure that the kids understand that they have to work hard in everything they do. If they work hard here, they will work hard in their lives.
Atlas Soccer Academy accepts children ages 6 thru 16 years old, but coaches insist it’s never too late to join.
The program is designed to meet the needs of young players in the Valley, according to Cuellar. All coaches are highly qualified with over 20 years of combined experience, and some have played at a professional level, he said.
Atlas conducts between 2 to 3 professional soccer scouting events a year for kids ages 11 and up, and many of their former players have gone on to play at a professional level.
Currently, five academy players have been recruited by the FC Atlas de Guadalajara, Mexico “Fuerzas Basicas,” which will give them a chance to play at a professional level. Former player Arturo “Poncho” Gonzalez is a World Champion with the U17 Mexico National Team.
Atlas has also started a partnership with Texas Rush Club in Houston, and 3 players have joined their program, which includes full scholarships that pay for their school, housing, and soccer training.
“If you want to play college soccer or professional soccer, there is an opportunity to begin that journey here in the Valley,” Cuellar said. “Part of what we do at Atlas is send kids off who want to play professionally. I mean, it’s not for everybody. It takes full-time dedication, but this is where it all starts.”
Atlas Soccer Academy opened in May 2000 with an intense focus to help kids grow and maybe become the kind of player they have always hoped they could be.
Their training field, located in Sharyland, offers private lighted soccer fields for players. The Academy’s International Youth Soccer Tournaments are well known in Texas and across our borders with Mexico.
“We focus on the players we have here, and of course, always trying to be very respectful to other teams,” Cuellar said. “The impact is all about being a good person, being respectful towards others, and working hard for what you want to achieve. That mentality also helps them do well in school.”
Atlas’ first camp starts in June 2014, and its second camp starts in July 2014. Cost is $450 for 4 weeks, and early registration begins in May. For more information, call (956) 240-5321 or (956) 588-6156, or visit the academy website at AtlasFutbol.net.