When Sebastian Velasquez arrived at Real Salt Lake, he'd come from a junior college program nearing the end of his rope. Despite his prodigious talent, the kid seemed less and less likely to make it as a professional - it's a big country, and it's easy to get lost in it, no matter the talent one has.
That made his first performance for the club all the more unlikely: March 10, with Real Salt Lake missing Will Johnson to injury and its midfield options laid bare, the rat-tailed youngster got the start in the first game of the season with no professional experience under his belt, no thought that he'd be starting. Not this soon. And nobody — underline that — expected him to force a goal to turn the match around, and to look as self-assured as he did in the process.
"To be honest, it was my dream come true - it's something I feel like I'll never live again," he says. "It wasn't my goal, but it was an own goal, that's where everybody got to know who Sebastian was and go from there."
A strong preseason saw him handed that chance. Early doesn't quite describe it: few rookies start their first game in MLS, let alone under Jason Kreis, whose preference for experienced heads and an established core is well known in the league.
"For a first-year player, almost nobody's done that before, apart from maybe Tony Beltran, who had a few opportunities in his first season," Kreis says. "Everybody else's, we've been able to take a very patient approach with."
Even with his bombastic confidence, Velasquez didn't come in expecting to see much first-team action in 2012.
"At the beginning of the season, I was fortunate to get a lot of minutes," Velasquez says. "Even still, I was coming not even expecting 15 minutes."
Velasquez, with a dose of confidence from a strong preseason and a strong character, impressed Jason Kreis in those early minutes - five starts from the first seven league matches in 2012.
"Due to injuries and his fantastic preseason, he got an opportunity and did extremely well with it," Kreis says. "Now things have slowed down for him and been more typical of what a first-year player. He's coming along very well."
Jason Kreis isn't exactly known for giving young players newcomers their chances early on - but when he hands them a chance, he expects them to perform. Even when they're given a shot, with a core group of eleven players impressing over a span of years and not months or weeks, the proven quantity's always going to be the first on the team sheet.
But it hardly means Velasquez hasn't impressed Jason Kreis - especially recently.
"I feel like in the past month or so, he's really played well," he says of Velasquez. "There was a bit of a summer doldrum for him, but he's back to playing extremely well and moving in the right direction."
With Real Salt Lake facing the LA Galaxy for the third time this season, Sebastian Velasquez is anticipated to be in the ranks - but this time, he won't be starting. In fact, he hasn't started since April 14, when RSL lost to Sporting KC at Livestrong Park.
He's found minutes hard to come by since: After five starts in the first seven matches of 2012, he featured only 18 minutes in the league. It came to be a point of frustration for fans, who had seen bright signs from the kid early on. Sparky, inventive and with a flair for close control, the ever-friendly midfielder was seen as deserving of more attention from his manager.
Velasquez - known to some fans as Sebas, as Tian - is comfortable biding his time, waiting for that next opportunity - however it comes. With only a few matches remaining before the campaign ends, he's still taking it day by day.
"Every game, you're always going in with the hope that you'll go in for a couple minutes, help the team out in some way. I'm just looking forward to the next game, which is LA again - and obviously I have great memories from it."
The development process is a long and trying one, and plenty of young players get frustrated with the lack of opportunities. It can be difficult transitioning from youth systems and college programs where they may be playing week-in-week-out to a league where reserves matches are sparse and first-team minutes are nearly non-existent.
This kid, though? He's down to earth; like most of Jason Kreis's players, he's packed with determination and drive - and importantly, a desire to learn and achieve as a team.
"I'm taking it all in, learning day by day, and getting better and getting to know the system," Velasquez says. "At the end of the day, we're building up to be something better - hopefully for the team."
Inevitably, the kid is looking forward to next season and has already set out some goals for himself: "Stay mentally focused, and come back in next year with the same mentality, try to get some minutes, and hopefully make something happen where I can keep getting involved and keep getting minutes."
As for his longer-term aspirations? "At the end of the day, my goal is to get on the pitch and become a starter one day."