Diego Abarca drills for El Paso Locomotive

Like so many youngsters, Diego Abarca grew up watching ESPN’s SportsCenter with his dad, waiting for the finale every night, the Top 10 show of the day.

Last Saturday, however, the 16-year-old was sleeping in his bed in Far East El Paso when his SportsCenter Top 10 involvement went in a different direction.

The Locomotive Abarca striker was No.8.

His one-goal flare against Hartford from the edge of the 18-yard penalty area made him the youngest Locomotive player to score and was one more feather for the Locomotive Academy that could transform the franchise in the coming seasons.

After:USL Ranking

Abarca struggles to put this feeling into words.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I honestly didn’t expect to score. I just walked in, trying to do my best, and I guess that came with a reward. So yeah, it was an incredible feeling to score my first goal .

“I had fallen asleep (at home after the game) because I was tired. I woke up, opened my phone and kept getting text messages. The Locomotive had posted that I was in the top 8. I used to watch (SportsCenter) with my dad every night, now I’m on it I have no words to be honest.

It’s all part of a climb that Abarca says is still in its early stages. He is the son of a former professional soccer player and current youth coach, Chilean Jose Abarca. Jose Abarca owns Diego’s Ice, a shaved ice shop on Zaragosa Road named after his son shortly after Diego was born. Diego Abarca started playing when he was 4 years old.

“My father was a pro, I was his first son, he wanted me to play football and I really liked it,” explained Diego Abarca quite succinctly. His father, who played in Chile and with the Seattle Sounders of the then A-League, finished his career with the defunct El Paso Patriots in 2003.

“Oh yeah, I knew this was coming,” Jose Abarca said of his son doing SportsCenter at age 16. “I’ve been developing him since he was 5 years old. His technique, his ability to understand the game, his left foot, his quality and his ability – he took 10 years of work.

“It’s quite exciting for so early in his career.”

At a young age, Diego Abarca got on with what was for years the best club in this city, FC Dallas El Paso, and then three years ago he joined the new club that supplanted FC Dallas El Paso, the brand new Locomotive Youth System.

Two years ago, when he was 14, he was selected for the Locomotive Academy. This ultimately led to him quitting his Pebble Hills High School team and forfeiting all high school eligibility. Every morning, Abarca wakes up at 5 a.m. and drives to a Home Depot on the east side, where the Locomotive sends a van to pick up 10–13 Academy players.

They train at the West Side Soccer Complex the morning before the Locomotive USL team arrives, and then some of them stay to train with a senior squad full of players twice their age.

When they’re done, many, including Abarca, cross the street to Canutillo High School, which, along with Franklin, partners with the Locomotive to accommodate Academy players.

Abarca and nine of his Academy teammates have signed $0 USL contracts with the Locomotive, which allows them to play USL games, including road games, while maintaining their amateur status. want to play in college.

Abarca attended a game on the road, in Las Vegas, and was as impressed as one would expect: “You fly everywhere, they feed you, they take care of the hotels. It’s a lot of fun, to be honest,” he said.

While Abarca had to drop out a bit to join the Locomotive — no high school football, school change, 5 a.m. wake-up call, long van rides, often two practice sessions a day, he has said jumping at the chance was a non-brain.

“It was pretty easy,” he said. “It was something I wanted to come and do. It’s what I’ve been looking for all my life, training every day like this. It wasn’t a hard decision, it was easy. is hard to adjust to waking up at 5 in the morning, but other than that, yeah.

“It’s amazing to learn every day, I get tips every minute.”

He’s starting to make a difference, although there’s still a long way to go to play every game minute in the USL. At the Academy level, he scored in every group match for the Locomotive U19 team during the group stage of the prestigious Dallas Cup, where the Locos reached the semi-finals.

At the USL level, the Locomotive is going through a tough time with injuries and national team call-ups (three players have been injured, three are playing for their national team for another week and star striker Diego Luna has just left. be bought by MLS’ Real Salt Lake), giving Abarca some opportunities.

The game against Hartford was his third appearance and first goal. Considering it was a 1-1 draw, it was crucial. His teammates certainly enjoyed the moment.

“I was happy,” said midfielder Nick Hinds. “It’s exciting to see a young guy working every day, getting mentorship from all the older guys and putting it into action in the game.

“We’re really happy for him. I think there’s more of him, his confidence in training has grown. We were all excited for him.”

Coach John Hutchinson was quick to point out that this trip was in its early stages, so soon he’s reluctant to say Abarca’s time has come.

“He’s a young man in a world of footballers,” Hutchinson said. “He’s only just beginning his journey to where he’s dreamed and wants to be, but his time hasn’t come yet. He’s a good lad, like all the young men we have in our squad. .

“Obviously it’s nice for him to score a goal, but there are still things he needs to improve in his game, a lot of new things to improve, a lot of growth. The path is very long, there is wind, there are slippery slopes in it that he will find. It was a big small step for him, but there is still a lot to do.

Abarca knows where he wants it to end, long term and short term.

“I work to become a professional wherever I can, be it the Locomotive, MLS, Europe, wherever and whenever it comes,” he said. “I have to continue with the same mentality of hard work, whether it’s with the Academy or with the first team (USL).

“Keep striving and working for more.”

This has kept Abarca in good stead so far.

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; [email protected]; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.

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