FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Santiago Suarez arrived at his first U.S. Under-19 Youth Men’s National Team camp this past July hoping to connect with some of his teammates during the weeklong stay in Carson, California. The 17-year-old was the lone representative from Sacramento Republic FC, so his first day on the field he was introduced to 22 unfamiliar faces.
Suarez formed a bond with a trio of players – Esmir Bajraktarevic, Noel Buck, and Jack Panayotou – unaware of the fact that all three were from the New England Revolution, with Bajraktarevic and Buck already signed to first team contracts and Panayotou starring for the Under-19 national champions. He was also unaware that Curt Onalfo, the Revolution’s Technical Director, had been impressed with him during a recent scouting trip, and was in contact with the trio of Revolution players at U.S. camp.
“It’s a cool story,” said Suarez, who made his professional debut with Sacramento Republic in the USL Championship in Phoenix shortly before that U.S. camp. “So, it was kind of a mix of they saw me play in Phoenix and there being New England Revolution players my age in that camp. So, Curt was talking with the players at the camp saying, ‘Hey, get this kid. We liked this kid.’ They watched me play that game, they were scouting me at the MLS NEXT Cup, as well, and that was kind of how it all happened.
“At the beginning of the camp, I didn’t realize that [Bajraktarevic, Buck, and Panayotou] were all New England Revolution players. I was kind of just trying to make some friends on the team, obviously with it being my first call up, and then towards the end they told me that they’re all New England Revolution players and it kind of caught me by surprise. Like, I really got along with these guys. So, it was almost a huge plus for New England because I had already made such good relationships with some of their top players without even knowing they were New England Revolution players.”
From there, New England made their interest in Suarez known, and by late November the Revs were announcing the 6-foot-5 center back as their first offseason signing and making a childhood dream come true for a kid from Rocklin, California.
“This has been an emotional rollercoaster here because growing up I was always watching MLS and that was always my goal. I always wanted to play, I always wanted to be a player or involved in a club,” said Suarez. “Now that I have the amazing opportunity to represent such an amazing club like New England Revolution, yeah, there’s been a lot of emotions.”
While the Revs have signed Suarez to an MLS contract, he won’t officially be added to the first team roster until the 2024 season. The rangy defender will spend the 2023 campaign with Revolution II in MLS NEXT Pro, gaining invaluable professional experience while playing with Clint Peay’s group and learning to perform in New England’s system. Suarez noted that he often played in a three-center-back system with Sacramento Republic, while the Revs typically use a pair of center backs.
The upcoming season will be one of professional development and growth for Suarez, but he’s also a natural competitor, and he has his eyes set on more than simply improving with Revs II in 2023.
“This first season and with every season in my professional career, the goal is always to win trophies or silverware,” said Suarez. “I would love to hopefully earn the respect of the players on the second team and lead them hopefully to an MLS NEXT Pro Cup, and use this season as an opportunity to showcase myself, one for the youth national team, and secondly for Bruce (Arena), who will most likely be watching most of the games, and he’ll feel more comfortable putting me into that first team environment my second year.”
Moving cross-country at 17 years old isn’t only significant professionally, but also personally. Suarez will initially be joined by his parents on the journey from California to New England and they’ll spend a week or two in the area to help him settle, but he’ll then be living with a pair of Revolution II teammates as he begins his new adventure in Foxborough.
“I’m super intrigued to start with the second team and hopefully be able to earn Bruce’s trust and be a big player with the first team that second year,” Suarez said. “It’s everything to be given this opportunity. I don’t know many kids in this country that are given an opportunity like this, and I’m super excited that New England was able to give me this opportunity and I hope to make the most of it.”
Photo courtesy of Sacramento Republic FC