Whether Sierra High wins or loses its Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal with Christian Brothers tonight, it will mark the end of senior Joey Velasquez’s time with the Timberwolves.
That’s because on Wednesday, he’ll be on his way to Casa Grande, Ariz. where he will finish out the rest of his high school studies and continue his soccer training with the Barça Residency Academy — FC Barcelona’s U.S.-based academy geared for student-athletes who aspire to play professionally or for top four-year universities.
“I’m definitely excited,” Velasquez said. “I’ll be able to learn a lot of new things. I think I’ve learned everything I could out here, so it’s just time for me to go somewhere else and try and learn in a different environment.”
Barça Residency Academy fields teams in U14-U19 and participates in MLS Next competitions. Velasquez has played for Manteca Rangers United ’04 Boca Juniors Elite, coached by Jose Acosta.
Jose Montes said this is a rare opportunity even for a player from the talent-rich Central Valley. Montes doubles as director for Manteca Area Soccer League and technical director for its Rangers United competitive club program.
“As a director, that’s what you want is for those kids to get exposure to higher levels,” Montes said. “You hope to open doors to something better for them and help them reach their goals. We’re small potatoes compared to some of these big clubs, but we we’re all about helping these players make it.”
Barça Residency Academy claims that 100 percent of its graduates has earned a college scholarship or signed a professional contract. The academy has produced some of the country’s top, young talent such as Caden Clark (RB Leipzig) and Matthew Hoppe (RCD Mallorca).
For Velasquez, it has opened up a new door of opportunities.
“What I hope to get out of it is a professional contract,” Velasquez said. “If not that, to play Division I soccer has been the goal for since coming into high school. I’ll be closer to a professional environment, and I want to take it to the next level, skip college and sign straight to a professional team.”
Few colleges and even a professional club have kept their eyes on the talented midfielder, but it was Barça Residency Academy that struck first. Velasquez was caught by surprise when approached by Barça coaches last month following a match during the Olympic Development Program National Training Camp in Tampa, Fla.
“After the game, my coach said there were a few people who wanted to talk to me,” Velasquez said. “I noticed one of them wearing a Barça jacket and I was shocked. That was really unexpected.”
Velasquez and his parents visited Barça Residency Academy last week. The campus includes the Arizona State University Preparatory Academy High School, eight soccer fields, an indoor performance center, student dormitories and a dining hall.
Velasquez accepted a full-ride scholarship to finish out the rest of the academic school year there. He may even take a gap year and return to the academy next fall to resume training and competition.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” Velasquez said. “Being there was a good experience, but nothing won’t hit me until I pack my stuff and I’m on my own.”
His mom, Angelica, is still getting used to the idea that Joey will be leaving so suddenly. He begins classes with ASU Prep Academy on Thursday.
“It’s happening really fast and is quite a transition,” she said, adding that the visit helped ease any concerns. “It’s kind of a relief knowing what he’s getting into. He’s not just going out there and being completely independent, but this is happening a lot faster than we expected. They said it’s the fastest recruitment they’ve ever had, so this is as new for them as it is for us.”
Velasquez has played two seasons for Sierra. As a freshman, he made the All-Valley Oak League first team after scoring six goals and eight assists. This year, he has four goals and three assists in limited appearances.
He looks forward to the last hurrah at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium tonight. The fifth-seeded Timberwolves (16-3-2) play No. 13 Christian Brothers (8-6-4) starting at 6.
“I’m doing it to get one last good memory in with my friends,” he said.