SF Glens Director Mike McNeill, Cruz Medina, Quakes Academy Director Dan Degeer, Quakes MLS Technical Director Chris Leitch. (Courtesy / Marco Gutierrez / San Jose Earthquakes)

SF Glens prodigy Cruz Medina to join San Jose Earthquakes academy

Twelve-year-old gets noticed by MLS club after breakout season on youth circuit

By Ryan Maquiñana

Special to S.F. Examiner

Cruz Medina, one of the top young soccer players in San Francisco, has signed on with the San Jose Earthquakes’ academy this fall.

Despite being just 12 years old, the precocious Medina caught the attention of the Major League Soccer team after an impressive season with the San Francisco Glens’ youth club.

This past campaign with the Glens’ Under-13 team, the attacking midfielder scored an astounding 31 goals and notched 28 assists — many of which occurred in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the top youth league in America.

“It’s all been so fast, but it’s an amazing opportunity with the Quakes,” said Medina. “I know it’s a lot of responsibility, but I think my time developing at Bay City [FC] with my dad and the past few years with the Glens has prepared me for this.”

The Glens were the first club in San Francisco to strike an official Partnership in Development with the Quakes last year that has already taken shape in various forms.

An April friendly between the Glens’ USL League Two first team and the Quakes’ Under-19 team, along with the two clubs’ celebration of Medina’s move in June at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium are among the examples of the budding relationship.

“It’s not every club that’s like this, that’s really in it for their players if it means pushing players on to these opportunities,” Quakes technical director Chris Leitch said of the Glens. “This is why we have this relationship and work with [executive director] Mike [McNeill], [youth coach] Steve [Sosa], [first-team coach] Javi [Ayala-Hil], and the club.”

Medina, who grew up in Ingleside and is currently an eighth grader at Rooftop Middle School, comes from a family deeply rooted in the sport. His big brother, Adrian, a rising sophomore at San Francisco State, also plays for the Glens’ first team. Their father, Antonio, founded Bay City FC, a local inner-city youth powerhouse that recently formed a partnership with the Glens.

“We could see how talented he was right away,” said Antonio, recounting Cruz’s early exploits with Bay City. “When he was four years old, he had his first micro soccer game. He dribbled through everybody and scored 20 goals in the first half. We saw enough. We had him playing with the Under-8 teams after that.”

As Cruz and Bay City’s profile began to rise, they ran into a roadblock. The club did not meet the requirements to compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

Enter the Glens, who had a USSDA program. Despite operating as a nonprofit, they have a scholarship program that has never turned away a single family due to financial need in an era where pay-to-play barriers have hindered access to the elite levels of youth soccer.

“Bay City and the Glens had some great battles on the field,” said Antonio, “but we always respected each other. I wanted to make sure our kids had the opportunities to play at the highest levels, so we met up with Mike [McNeill] and the Glens to make the partnership happen.

“It’s definitely not easy to bring two communities together so quickly, but I think you’re seeing the power of soccer to do that. Together, we have the largest and most diverse club in The City now, and we embrace that. This club is for all San Franciscans, and it’s never been done before here at this level. To have kids from the Sunset and Marina playing with kids from the Mission, Excelsior, and Bayview on the same team is great to see.”

For the Glens, the feeling is mutual.

“We’re all excited for Cruz in his next step,” said McNeill. “Antonio has done an amazing job not only developing him into an exceptional player with his work ethic and his focus, but a great person as well with the way he leads by example. Our mission with the Glens is to help provide every San Francisco family the highest-quality soccer experience possible, and to see Cruz be able to have this shot is what it’s all about.”

With over 100 members of the Glens and Bay City in attendance at Avaya Stadium after San Jose’s game with the Houston Dynamo in June, Medina took the field to formally celebrate the transition with his family, McNeill, Leitch, and Quakes academy director Dan Degeer, who will also be his coach this fall.

“To be honest, I was really nervous with all my family and friends in the stands watching me out there on the field,” Cruz said. “But I’m really happy for what this means for my future, and I just want to thank them for believing in me, and I hope I make everyone back in The City proud.”

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