At 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds, Angel Iñiguez isn’t the most physically imposing soccer player.
If this were baseball, football or basketball, it would be easy to lose him amid bigger and stronger peers who would, at the very least, pass the eye test for a blue-chip prospect.
Fortunately for Iñiguez, he can draw inspiration from the fact that the best soccer player in the world is known as “The Flea” and barely stands 5-foot-7 in cleats, yet still strikes fear in the hearts of grown men.
“Lionel Messi is my idol,” Iñiguez said of the diminutive FC Barcelona superstar. “I know I’m not the biggest guy out there, but I watch what he does against the rest of the world and it gives someone like me hope.”
Iñiguez, who currently plays youth club soccer for the San Francisco Glens’ Under-16 team, aims to stand tall again this weekend in Southern California at the renowned Allstate Sueño Alianza National Showcase, a talent identification contest targeting Latino youth players.
Combined with stops in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and El Paso, over 5,000 players nationwide registered for their shot, but only 48 made the cut to Norco’s SilverLakes Soccer Complex for the National Showcase.
Now in its 12th year, the event has become synonymous with Latino soccer in the United States, as a response to many young players falling through the cracks due to issues like the inability to afford the exorbitant costs of club soccer, or the lack of attention from college, professional, and U.S. National Team scouts.
In fact, more than 90 players discovered by Sueño Alianza have signed professional contracts, including the organization’s spokesman, Santa Rosa’s own Jonathan González. The Bay Area-born defender used the 2013 National Showcase as a catapult to Rayados of Monterrey (Mex.) in Mexico’s Liga MX, and controversially, the Mexican National Team after leaving U.S. Soccer’s youth system.
Iñiguez earned his invitation over a field of more than 500 players by catching Sueño Alianza’s attention during the organization’s regional tryout, which was held last month in Morgan Hill. The stakes are higher this time around, with scouts from the Mexican National Team, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League, Liga MX, Spain’s LaLiga and the top college programs in America scheduled to attend.
“I’m just really happy to be picked because there was so much competition,” Iñiguez said. “In Morgan Hill, you only got to play a couple games to show the scouts what you could do, and in some cases, you probably only get to touch the ball for a few seconds, so I had to make the most of it.”
Iñiguez, a sophomore at Summit Shasta School in Daly City, demands attention the moment his foot meets the ball. A magician on the dribble with the peripheral vision to see plays before they occur, he’s able to neutralize an opponent’s size advantage with his speed and intelligence.
“There was always something different about Angel in terms of being a difference maker from the first time I saw him play,” said his current coach on the Glens, Antonio Medina. “I’d say the one thing we worked on from the beginning was becoming a thinking player, depending on the situation and dictating the game against who he has in front of him. I never have him go body-to-body because of his size, but get in the right spaces and use his positioning.”
Medina has steered Iñiguez’s development since the Under-8 level at Bay City FC, now a partner club with the Glens, who have bucked general tradition in club soccer by offering scholarships to every single one of their youth players based on financial need—including Iñiguez.
“Angel makes the game interesting,” Medina added. “He’s got a whole bunch of moves and does a lot of things that people pay to watch. Hopefully he can get the scouts’ attention this weekend. It also helps that he has one of the best left feet that I’ve ever coached.”
That left foot was the center of attention in Spain this summer when the Glens faced Madrid-based club ADC Castillo in the Donosti Cup. Despite being the smallest player on the pitch, he uncorked a long-range shot from well outside the box that curled over everyone’s heads into the top corner of the net in a 3-1 upset victory.
“I love being a part of the Glens and having opportunities like these to go to Spain and play at the highest levels,” Iñiguez said. “We’ve got a great community here, and I like how everyone on my team is from everywhere in The City. I just want to represent this weekend as best I can and make my family and friends proud.”