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Fidel Barajas: Everything You Need To Know


When Real Salt Lake’s newest signing, Fidel Barajas, learned he was named to The Guardian's prestigious Next Generation 2023 list, he was shocked. Not because he couldn’t believe he made it, but because he didn’t know what it was.

“I really never heard of that list, I looked it up and it was amazing,” Barajas told CBS Sports Golazo

 “Keeping my feet on the ground, I think that’s what makes a difference for me. It’s just motivation, I think that it’s something that makes me want to make the list again or even get bigger accomplishments.”

Barajas' drive to succeed has helped him take the numerous accolades he earned while with the Charleston Battery in stride. For a 17-year-old, the list is already quite impressive:

  • 2023 USL Championship Young Player of the Year
  • 2023 USL Championship All-League Second Team
  • 2023 USL Players Association USLC Young Player of the Year
  • United States & Mexico U17 International
  • 2023 USLC Regular Season + Postseason Assist Leader (11)

Now with RSL, he just wants more. 

“For this year at RSL, I have a good goal set up to win MLS Newcomer of the Year,” Barajas said. “But first just start getting minutes and hopefully make it in the starting 11. Being in the starting 11, that’s my biggest goal.”

The thought of “what can we expect from this 17-year-old” that Claret-and-Cobalt fans may be feeling now is similar to those what Charleston Battery coach Ben Pirmann felt when he signed Barajas from San Jose Earthquakes academy at just 16. 

“We didn’t know if he’d be a regular or one of the reserves,” Charleston Battery coach Ben Pirmann told the Post and Courier. 

“Fidel came in and has worked extremely hard on his game. He has a bit of the ‘it’ factor. He’s a fierce competitor and he soaks everything up right now. He’s a top talent and he gets it because he wants it.’”

In Barajas first appearance for the Battery in October, 2022, he recorded an assist. On his first start in the following game, he recorded another. Then in 2023, his first full season as a professional, he blossomed in the gritty and competitive USL Championship, scoring five goals and assisting 11 times.  

Real Salt Lake fans will be quite familiar with the story of a young player excelling in USL and then joining the Claret-and-Cobalt in the form of midfielder Diego Luna. Barajas familiarity with Luna’s story is no different. 

“I'm really excited, especially going from USL to MLS and picking an amazing club like Real Salt Lake, I’m just really excited,” Barajas said. 

“I look at players like Diego Luna and the history of the club, how they bring in young talents and produce them to get a lot of minutes in the first game and possibly go to Europe. I feel like that was the direction I wanted to go and the pathway I wanted to take. It’s why I thought RSL was the perfect opportunity.”

“I've been following Diego since before the U-20 World Cup. After the U-20 World Cup, his name just became bigger, and bigger. I’ve followed him since he was with El Paso Locomotives, and I guess he just gave me more motivation. You can say he’s like an idol, showing how he’s taken that pathway, and now he’s at RSL and so am I. It’s perfect.”

Luna’s most productive year in the USL Championship was also at the age of 17, and his ability to compete against grown men at that level stood out to RSL Sporting Director, Kurt Schmid.

“Similar to Diego, the thing that attracts us to guys like him as a prospect is the fact that they've got a little bit of a track record behind them, at a young age competing with men,” Schmid said. 

“It's a difficult thing to step up those levels and deal with the physical challenges as well as the technical and tactical challenges because everyone's bigger, faster, stronger but also the reduced space and time on the ball,” Schmid said. 

“So his ability to cope with that, similar to Diego's ability to cope with that in USL certainly grabs our attention and gives us something that we can grab on to, and gives him something that he can grab on to as he adapts to the next level in MLS. He's taking it to some extent step by step, working his way up, and I think that he's shown himself that he can produce and be a player at that level in USL.” 

Luna and Baraja’s numbers during their most productive seasons aged 17 in the USLC regular season almost mirror each other. In 2021 with El Paso Locomotive, Luna recorded nine goals and five assists. Last season with Charleston, Barajas recorded four goals and nine assists.

This also underscores the difference in the type of player Barajas is to Luna. While the similarities in their journey are uncanny, (Both from Northern California, both part of the San Jose Earthquakes academy, both left at a young age to the USLC, and now both are at RSL) they’re different players when it comes to their development and what they excel at on the field.

“He does have a good left foot,” said Schmid. “He can score, he can take the shots from distance, but obviously goal scoring is one of the hardest things to do. So it's great to see him continue to set people up while he's adapting to a level like USL. But Fidel and Diego are different players.”

“I think they can both do similar-ish things on the flanks where they can both play inverted off of the left and the right, but Fidel can play on either side. I think he's got the ability to operate in the half spaces, just inside the wing and combine well with others to adapt to the way that we see the style of play continuing to evolve here at RSL with Pablo and the new staff. We think he fits in really well with guys like Diego,with guys like Chicho, in terms of the ability to be more ball dominant and hold onto the ball, possess the ball and use it to make the other team pay.”

John Morrissey of USL Tactics profiled Barajas in June of last year, and made multiple points that should excite RSL fans about how he could fit into a Pablo Mastroeni managed team.

“A left-footed attacker, the teenager is comfortable on either wing. He’s a strong crosser on his better foot on the left, but provides a real triple threat when inverted on the right. Charleston has used him at both positions this season; eight of his 15 starts in 2023 have come on the left, and seven have come on the right,” Morrissey said.

“Barajas is at his best when he’s working in transition. He’s playing as a left winger in each of the play shown above, carving into space on the break with a real sense of poise and maturity”

The word maturity should be highlighted, because as noted before, Barajas has had to grow up extremely fast. Moving from his home in California across the country to South Carolina at the age of 16 just to chase a dream, and then also play against players sometimes twice your age. 

Barajas has international dreams too. He has represented both the Mexican and United States youth national teams, helping the Mexico U17’s win the CONCACAF Men’s U17 Championship last February and participating in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup last fall. Along with Barajas’ gargantuan dreams with RSL, he also has big goals internationally.

“So far with my national team, both U.S. and Mexico, it's been, it's been an honor and blessing, something that I think every soccer player dreams of, Barajas said.”

“And not only for me, but for my parents too being Mexicans, I think it brings them a lot of joy to watch me play for them. Playing in the 2026 World Cup, that’s another goal I want to accomplish for either national team.”

The Guardian’s Next Generation list features 60 of the most talented soccer players born from a certain year. Barajas won’t even be the only RSL player to be featured on the list, young RSL midfielder Moses Nyeman featured on the 2020 list along with the likes of Bundesliga superstars Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz. 

Where Barajas will go from here, no one knows, and every player's development path is different. What Barajas wants RSL fans to know however, is he believes he’s ready to give it his all for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

“Going from an MLS Academy to the USL was a huge transition in my soccer life and my personal life,” Barajas said.

 “I was able to have amazing people around me, such as coaches and players who helped me fit in quickly. Thanks to that, I’ve won a good amount of awards this year and now, thank God, I’m going to the next level in MLS. I can’t wait!”