Colorado Rapids fans - actually, soccer fans around the world - know Carlos 'El Pibe' Valderrama, and not just because of his hair. The Colombian legend was named his country's Player of the Century and won numerous other awards in his career, including the inaugural MLS MVP honor back in 1996. The masterful midfielder finished his standout career with the Colorado Rapids in 2001 and 2002, when he set the club's single-season assist record with 16.
It's now been 10 years since Valderrama retired, but El Pibe (The Kid) still promoting Major League Soccer, now as the ambassador for Sueño MLS 2013 – Presented by Allstate - the nationally televised search for the best undiscovered soccer talent in North America.
In only one week since the League announced that Sueno MLS was coming to Colorado in April, the spots are nearly full. While the project is marketed through Univision's hit sports show, Republica Deportiva, it is not a Hispanic-only initiative. Hopeful contestants of all backgrounds (ages of 14-18) are encouraged to sign up, even for the waiting list (which, by the way, is how the first-ever Sueño MLS winner in 2007, Jorge [Flores] Villafaña, entered the competition)
From April 20-21, nearly 500 field players will be battling for one of five invitations to a week-long trial with the Rapids' youth development club and an invitation to the four-day National Finals that will be held in the greater Los Angeles area.
ColoradoRapids.com had a chance to catch up with Valderrama during his Sueño MLS promotional media tour:
Do you remember how you began in soccer and how you had a chance to begin your career?
"Of course. It was customary in Colombia to start in the neighborhood. In neighborhoods, (scouts) would make a list of the best young players they would see playing in the street and they would send them to the fields to tryout. And throughout the practices they would select players for the club. That was more complicated. Now it's a lot better. Back then it was unorganized but we were able to achieve our dreams to become professional players."
How old where you when you were identified?
"When I was given my first opportunity I was about nine years old. They saw me playing in the streets and invited me to join a youth school, and that was my first experience in becoming focused in soccer."
Sueño MLS contestants won't likely be as young...
"This is the precise ages for Sueno - from 14-18. The kids are closer to their dream, it is more organized, the coaches are more knowledgeable - all of this makes things easier. So then it depends on the talent of the player and his discipline."
What kind of advice can you give someone trying out for Sueño MLS?
"My advice to the young players is to approach it calmly. We as coaches are going to teach, to give advice based on what we've learned in soccer. But they need to go in relaxed and to show their talent, their fitness, their technical ability. Just approach it calmly and to not place added pressure on themselves. On the contrary, we're going to motivate them so that they can show all of their ability."
When you played in MLS there weren't youth academies. What do you think of this development?
"I'm very happy about it. It's another way to give young players opportunities and it's another sign of the growth of the league. When I came here there were 10 teams and now there are 19 teams, and they have these programs to give younger players a chance. This also gives coaches chances to identify players when they are young and to give them an opportunity. This shows the league's dedication and I hope it continues growing in this manner."
And how does Sueno MLS play a role in the system?
"This is a building step. Teams have different pieces to forming players, starting with the basics. This is a step that MLS is taking to look at players from 14-18 years old and to give them a chance to see if they will have what it takes to become professional players."
Finally, how do you look back at your time with the Colorado Rapids?
"It's been 10 years since my experience in Colorado with the Rapids. Everyone treated me very well in Colorado. I'll never forget it because it was my last experience as a professional. I always discuss it when I'm asked in interviews and in reunions, that I retired with the Colorado Rapids in MLS. I had the opportunity to play there for two years, so it's something that is unforgettable as a player and as a person."