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SBI MLS Spotlight: Crew’s Saravia realizing dream of playing for both club and country

Photo by Columbus Crew
Photo by Columbus Crew

Ever since he was a kid in Guatemala City, Rodrigo Saravia has had two dreams. The first was to represent his country on the highest level. The second was to follow several of his childhood heroes to MLS while forging his own professional career.

In the first several months of a whirlwind 2016, the 23-year-old midfielder has accomplished both.

Saravia made the leap to the professional ranks in January by joining the Columbus Crew as the club’s first round pick in the 2015 draft. Then, just several weeks later, Saravia found himself in the starting lineup for Guatemala in a friendly against Honduras in his first taste of senior-team action.

For the midfielder, the start of 2016 brings him back to his childhood. As a kid, Saravia watched the likes of Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa represent his country both on the national team and in MLS. Now with a chance to do so himself, the 23-year-old is hoping to hit the ground running with a strong team in the Crew.

“It’s something I can’t explain. I’m very proud of myself,” Saravia told SBI. “Being a Guatemalan and being from a  third-world country, it doesn’t happen all the time. There aren’t many other Guatemalans who have done what I’ve done. At the beginning, I couldn’t think about it, and I was going to fight for it, but I never knew I was going to get it. That was my goal since I was five or six years old: getting to play in MLS, or at least find a professional contract.

“That’s something that’s a goal that you set when you’re a kid: to get the opportunity to represent the national team and get the opportunity to get them to a World Cup. It was something where I felt like I did it. I felt proud of myself because I did it and made it to the first team. I’m not being like ‘OK, I did it.’ I want to keep playing with them and giving them my services to try to help them reach their goals and get to the World Cup … It gave me a lot of experience in one game. You learn a lot about yourself.”

The start of Saravia’s education began on the fields in Guatemala City. As a youth player, Saravia featured for Futeca Camp Elite and Antigua GFC while watching MLS from afar. As a child, Saravia would watch highlights of Ruiz making his mark on the league whenever he could. When Pappa joined the Chicago Fire in 2008, his love of the league grew even more, even if he was limited to solely highlights and articles due to the league’s lack of television exposure in his home country.

When the opportunity to play in the U.S came, Saravia ran with it. If players like Ruiz and Pappa could make it in the U.S., why couldn’t he?

Despite being recruited by larger schools like Boston College and Rutgers, Saravia opted to attend Florida Gulf Coast University in 2012. The Eagles had only boasted a soccer team since 2007, but a strong relationship with a coaching staff that recruited him from day one made the move feel right for the young Guatemalan.

The move paid dividends, as Saravia shot up the draft charts following a four-year career with the Eagles. Despite his knowledge of the Crew’s interest, Saravia was both shocked and elated to be selected by the team with the 19th overall pick in January’s draft.

“I think he’s done well. The idea is that we groom him into a good midfielder in our system,” said Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter. “He’s done well so far, and it hasn’t always been easy. He’s got a lot of learning to do, but he has the right attitude. He’s got a great work-rate, a good attitude and he wants to take information in. So far, I think he’s been good.”

“It’s an amazing team. Everyone is so good,” Saravia added. “It’s going to be really hard to even get on the bench. I’m going step-by-step, day-by-day. I want to get a position in the starting XI. Why not? Right now, I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about learning. I have to learn a lot of things here. I’m going day-by-day, and I want the team to be successful. I want to help as much as I can. I want to win everything, like everyone here does.”

Since joining the Crew for preseason, Saravia says he has been mentored by several of the group’s veterans. Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain and Tyson Wahl have all offered tips to the young midfielder, while Saravia says Mohamed Saeid has been a major influence on him since joining the team for camp.

For now, the goal is to continue to learn and get better. Saravia says the game in the U.S. is much faster than it was back in Guatemala, while the physical aspects of MLS are something the midfielder will need to adapt to.

Still, Saravia can’t help but imagine the thought of representing his country in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against the U.S. Men’s National Team. With two clashes set for March, Saravia hopes to play a part in what would be a dream clash of his birth country against his adopted home.

“It’s really bothering me, the United States game,” Saravia said. “It’s something I’m really looking forward to. With the U.S., it’s different because the United States has qualified for the World Cup more than five times, but for me as a Guatemalan, we have never qualified in our entire history. Every game, we live it. It’s really different.

“I haven’t talked with the coach yet. I have no idea if he’s going to call me or not. I hope he calls me. I don’t mind if I’m on the bench or if I’m playing. I’ll do whatever I can to help the team. If they call me and I’m on the bench, I will not get mad. I will be more than proud to be there.”

Saravia is more than proud to have accomplished several of his childhood goals in such a short timespan. Just several months ago, he was a college player still pursuing his dream of being the next Guatemalan to make his mark.

Now, that process has begun as Saravia is looking to continue a monumental 2016 by further establishing himself as a contributor for both club and country.

“Everything is exciting right now. Every morning has been really nice,” Saravia said. “It’s been amazing because I get to play with a professional team and I get to train with a professional team with these guys. I have a nice path and they are amazing on the field … It’s been a big ride. “


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