Commerce City, Colo. – Bryan Windsor had an off-season unlike any other player on the Colorado Rapids Academy team. Actually, it was unlike that of all but four players in the country.
In August, Windsor and three other American players advanced to the Global Finals of Nike’s “The Chance” competition held in Barcelona, Spain, where they were coached by the same staff that once coached international stars Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi Hernandez, among others.
But it was a ‘chance’ that almost didn’t happen, not if he hadn’t checked his junk email folder.
“Initially the email was in spam, and then I read it and was surprised because I had been watching the videos posted on YouTube about ‘The Chance,’” Windsor told ColoradoRapids.com. “I wasn’t thinking that I could actually be part of it, so I was floored that I was going to compete in it.”
To confirm the email’s legitimacy, a represented from Nike called him less than an hour later to go over details.
“The Chance” began in 2010 in 40 countries to give young players around the world a ‘chance’ to be seen by some of the best coaches and scouts in the world. The U.S. joined the challenge in 2012, holding national tryouts in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C, and Chicago - but with U.S. Soccer scouts also on the lookout.
In June, a U.S. Soccer scout identified Windsor after watching him play for the Rapids Academy at the Academy Finals in Frisco, Texas. The next month, Windsor was one of 48 players competing at the National Finals in Oregon.
After three days of tests and games at the Finals, the Boulder, Colo.-native was informed he was among the four best players and would be advancing to the Global Finals in Barcelona to compete among 100 players from 55 countries.
“It was guys age 16-21, so I wasn’t sure how I’d stack up against the older guys, but I played my game and thought I did well,” the 17-year-old said of the National Finals. “I was feeling comfortable, but I was actually surprised they chose me because there were some quality players. I was honored that I was chosen.”
On August 16 he made his first trip to Spain and soon began training at the famed ‘La Masia,” FC Barcelona’s youth training facility next the Camp Nou stadium.
“I wasn’t so sure how I was going to do, because it was the top 100 in the world who had not been signed,” Windsor said. “But I had my three other Americans who I had become friends with, so I was happy I wasn’t the only person from my country.”
The player were given three days to adjust to the new location, and then for the next three days were put through three hours of possession and technical drills - no games. At the end of each session, the Barcelona coaches identified which players were the best of the day.
“It was a different feeling, it felt very professional and very formal - no joking around,” Windsor said of the sessions. “In the first day I just wanted to play my game and not change anything, and I ended up being one of the top two of the first day.”
For Windsor the competition was secondary. He felt he had already won just by being in the environment.
“It’s always great to get tips from other coaches,” he said. “And these Barcelona coaches had been in the system so long that they’ve worked with Messi and Iniesta and Xavi. They know what works to make a good player, so it was kind cool thinking of that as they’re coaching us.”
Windsor made the cut to 52 players, where they were then split into four teams of 13 for a semifinal match. That’s where the competition ended for him.
“I’m very happy with the experience overall," he said. "It was an amazing opportunity, not only soccer wise - it being a new experience, but being in Barcelona where the best soccer in the world is played."
He's now back with the Rapids Academy, which began the new season this past weekend in Texas with a 2-2 draw against Lonestar SC and a 1-0 victory over Classics Elite.
The Fairview High School student, who has a 4.2 weighted grade point average (3.8 if not weighted, he said), has already verbally committed to play college soccer at Princeton next fall.
He's also hoping for a return to a national team camp. In 2005 he was called in to a U.S. Soccer U-15 camp, as well as to a U-15 camp for Switzerland, facilated due to his dual nationality through his family. The Swiss Youth Team called him back into another camp last fall.
But it's the Rapids Academy that has his focus right now.
“It’s the best level in American for youth," he said of the Development Academy. "It's tough to play in. And especially in a pro academy like ours, it opens up so many doors - to the professional league and connections to national teams, and even colleges.”