Future Soccer Star Alexis Velela’s Real Dream of Soccer Success
Few high school sophomores have traveled around the world to represent their country, but Alexis Alfonso Velela is not your typical sophomore – or even your typical soccer player.
Just weeks shy of his sixteenth birthday, Alexis has logged more miles of travel than most people will in a lifetime. He has been around the country, to Mexico, and even to Italy, thanks to the game that he loves.
The San Diego native has played for San Diego Surf SC on the club’s U.S. Development Academy U15/16 team and was captain of the Cal South 98 ODP/Pro+ Team in 2011 and 2012.
A member of the National Teams program since 2011, Alexis is currently traveling with the U.S. U17 Men’s National Team, coached by Richie Williams, as they continue a three-match tour of the Pacific Northwest. Previously he competed with the U.S. U15 Boys’ National Team in the 2013 Delle Nazioni Tournament in Italy and in the prestigious Copa Mexico de Naciones in Mexico City.
The young man has garnered his share of admirers in his short life, including Wayne Harrison, Technical Director and Boys Director of Coaching at San Diego Surf SC.
“Alexis is a special player,” said Harrison. “First he is a humble young man, which will get him far as he will never lose his focus. Second, he is so good he can play in any position, which again will help him. And third he plays with no fear and with a freedom and confidence seldom seen in one so young.”
About Future Stars Foundation In 2003 soccer coach Melvin Cuellar approached Sarvia Lopez with the idea of helping to support talented young soccer players whose families could not afford to place them with a competitive soccer club. Lopez worked to find donations through contacts for the players that Cuellar had identified, the two frequently reaching into their own pockets to make sure expenses were covered. In 2013 Lopez and Cuellar took the next step by creating Future Stars Foundation to continue helping young players such as Alexis Velela to reach their dreams.
With his Surf SC team, Alexis has had the opportunity to compete in – and win – some to the toughest youth soccer tournaments in the country. During his career he has played in the US Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championship, winning in 2010 and 2011, and National Championship, winning in 2012. He has also helped to hoist the winner’s trophy at Dallas Cup (2011) and Surf Cup (2011 and 2012). In 2009 his team finished as finalists in the challenging Copa Chivas in Guadalajara, Mexico.
After all this exposure, it’s no surprise that Alexis, whose family is originally from Mexico, has been scouted by professional clubs, including Monterrey FC and Pachuca FC. In 2011 he spent seven days in Pachuca for trials, and another week in 2012 in Monterrey.
“They were both great experiences and Monterrey was ready to keep me in their U15 team,” recalled Alexis, “but I am missing my Mexican Passport and that has delayed the process.”
However, life has not been all high-fives and trophies for Alexis. When his parents had to move back to Mexico, Alexis was fortunate that he, a brother and a cousin were able to move in with coach Melvin Cuellar.
Always willing to helping others, Cuellar had launched Future Stars Foundation years ago with Sarvia Lopez, and is Vice President of this San Diego based organization dedicated to helping soccer players in need reach their goals on and off the field.
“It was hard at first for my brother and cousin to adapt, but for me it wasn’t as difficult,” said Alexis. “I had already spent many weekends traveling to soccer tournament with Cuellar’s family. To have been separated from my parents and sisters made me grow faster as a person. I feel more mature and responsible. It has not deterred me from my goal, which is to become a professional soccer player. I have always been willing to put in the work to achieve my dreams.”
More recently, Alexis had another major change in his life, but this one much more positive, when he was invited to join the U.S. Soccer Residency Program. While he had been on the radar with the Cal South ODP/Pro+ team, it was his performance in the 2011 Dallas Cup that sealed the deal for his spot on a National Team roster. In fact, several members of that 2011 championship team were scouted by professional clubs and two have signed internationally – Joe Gallardo with Rayados Monterrey and Luca De la Torre with Fulham F.C.
“When I received the invitation to be a part of the residency program I was glad and so happy because I know that it’s a big step for me and for my future,” Alexis remembered. “Leaving home is hard, but it’s easier for me now that I’m not with my parents or my whole family. If I were with them, I know it would’ve been harder.
In his short time in the National Teams system, Alexis has had many exciting experiences and learned valuable lessons. One of his best memories was at the Copa Mexico de Naciones, where the U.S. U15 BNT went 3-1 in bracket, losing only to Brazil on an own goal. After losing to Uruguay in the semifinals, the team defeated Paraguay 10-9 on penalty shots for third place.
“Losing to Brazil who has a reputation for being the best in the world by an own goal in Copa de Naciones was not so bad,” Alexis admitted.
“Playing against different countries has been an amazing experience. My last highlight of the trip was the penalty I scored on Paraguay during our penalty shootout and winning that game at the Azteca Stadium, the greatest stadium in Mexico.”
Playing against international competition has also shown him that it takes a complete player to succeed in the sport.
“I have learned that I will play bigger and stronger guys in soccer,” he said. “It’s your mentality that plays. Most of these players are not afraid to a tackle and the touching on the ball is quicker.”
“Alexis is a student of the game who is learning to blend technique, tactics and work rate into one,” said U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor Rob Becerra. “I am happy to see this young man doing well.”
“My strength is being able to read the game fast and knowing what’s happening all over the field,” said Alexis.
“I am always looking for the opponents weak spots during games. Taking charge on an off the field as a captain. Defending is one of my top strengths, a reason I think I’m a defender in the National Team.”
But Alexis is mature enough to understand that he still has a long way to go before he can take the field as a professional. “I am aware that I need to work hard to improve and become a complete soccer player,” he admitted. “Every player has weaknesses. One thing that I always work hard to improve is being able to find spaces in the field to make a pass or even getting the ball in the beginning.”
While many teens celebrate their sixteenth birthday with dreams of cars, smart phones and other gadgets, Alexis will spend his working on a much bigger dream – that of being a professional soccer player. He is already well on the way to reaching his goal, and he has some advice for young players just starting out.
“I would tell them to set a goal for themselves and never give up on their dreams no matter how hard a situation gets,” he said. “To always look forward to their future.”
“I am disappointed we will not have the benefit of his leadership with our Academy, but at the same time delighted he has this massive opportunity to show himself,” said Harrison of Alexis. “He is a pleasure to work with, always wanting to please and do well for himself and his team, and an unselfish player. I am sure he will go far in the professional game in the long term, and I will follow his career with great interest.”
“I wish I was a National coach working with him.”