I get emotional when I talk about my story because I remember so many things. 

When I hear my dad tell me, "Oh, my son, I feel very proud of you," it gives me this special feeling, because I promised him as a child, sitting there with him, “Pa, I'm going to become a professional soccer player.” 

And now here we are at Real Salt Lake. 

I have to be proud of myself, because I have been through so much. 

My journey is quite a story, but a difficult one.

Since I was young I’ve liked three things. Motorcycles, dancing and soccer.  

In Colombia I would look for ways to make money so I would wash motorcycles, and then I would also get to be around them. I love watching motorcycles racing, I’m like a child out there with all the emotions during a race. 

Speaking of emotions, dancing. I dance a lot. There was a dance growing up in my hometown that was very popular. Therefore, wherever I go, I will always do my city’s dance. Dancing, it’s a way of being where I’m from.

I grew up in Quibdo, Colombia. To tell you the truth, crime was incredibly high in my town. As a child, I grew up seeing some of my friends killed and others who started going down the wrong path. But my entire family has always been very passionate about soccer.  Ever since I was little, I would see my father glued to the television, it was always soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer.

Because of that I stayed focused and didn’t go down the wrong path. 

Well maybe for a little while, yes I was straying. 

People in my hometown went after money. Some sold the biggest vices, like drugs, others stole from schools, others stole fruit and sold it elsewhere and others just stole from shops. And so, I tried to steal, but it just wasn’t in me. 

I mean, I was really bad at stealing. 

The first time I tried they caught me. Thank God they didn't tell my parents anything, but I tried.

So thank God my dad introduced me to street soccer.

I started playing in a neighborhood tournament at about eight years old. That’s where this journey started, because that's where my love for soccer was born.

I stood out a lot from the rest of the players. I was very small and my classmates were taller and bigger.

The coaches would send the other players to professional teams on trial, but obviously, they would not send me.

Still, I've always had a go-getter mentality. I told them, "I'm going to keep playing, even if I’m small, it doesn't matter.” 

And then after some time I realized they simply were never going to give me the chance, all because of my height. It was during that time at around 15 years old I started losing my love for soccer.

I would see all my friends on the street corners in the neighborhoods. We all used to go out and play, but now they were obviously lost in life. In the towns back home, when people have money or power, people want to copy them a lot and follow their lead. I would see that and wanted the same, so I started deviating from football. 

Have to give thanks to my dad who corrected me... well, he spanked me.

That guided me back to continue my path in soccer. Thank God, I never did anything bad, because I was then able to continue down a straight path, and around 17 years old, I went to Cali, a city eight hours away from Quibdo to join a local team there. 

I arrived in Cali and lasted about a year. They had me living in a group home for a local neighborhood team, not a professional team. A group home is like a clubhouse. For example, at the RSL Academy, the team has some young players who are not from Utah, they are from Miami, so they have a place for them to live, with people who feed and take care of them.

While I was there I suddenly grew tremendously. My legs stretched out more and then I grew a little. While there, I played with some U21s, they were all 21 years old and I was 17. I played well and the coaches liked me a lot. From there I moved to another team in Cali.

Obviously in the group home, one goes through a lot of hardship. When you have nothing but your parents to support you economically, it is not like it seems in the movies. I had a lot of expenses while I was there. I remember after only a year, I had already said that I was not coming back because my family was struggling financially back home and the Club still hadn’t given me a monthly allowance. I have five siblings that are younger than me that I needed to help back home. 

And when they gave me money, I also had to give some back to them. So I told them no, I wouldn’t be returning for the next season.

So then I arrived back in Quibdo and I started training again. My coach, Jefferson Santo, who I worked out with back home came across these advertisements on the internet for try-outs at the youth teams of Altetico Nacional, one of the best professional teams in the country. They played in my country's capital, Medellin. Jefferson told me, "well let's just see what comes out of it”. 

I decided to go to the tryouts because my grandparents also live in Medellín. So I went, stayed in a group home from a local team there and trained with that team while waiting for the Nacional try-out date. 

I also tried to play for the team whom I was training with and they wouldn't have me. The coach didn't like how I played. I was all over the place. I was very slow and I fooled around a lot with the ball and so they didn’t let me stay.

From there I went on to the Nacional try-outs and they let me try-out. There were about 1,000 to 1,500 kids. And of those, only three were picked. One who is now playing for their first team another who is also there, and who is in the Colombian National team and myself. 

While the Club went to assign me to a group home, I went to live with my grandfather and grandmother.

I was there for about two months, waiting to see if they would give me the address to the home.

In cases like mine, because I went to these try-outs alone and didn't have representation there to help me, often nothing comes out of it. 

From all those drills, I can honestly say I was the best one there. 

But since I went alone, obviously no one was looking out for me, or checking in for me with the Club, and they didn't sign me. They never called. Then the pandemic hit and I went back to Quibdo again.

When I returned, everyone in the neighborhood asked me, “what had happened with Nacional, why had I come back?”

I would tell them they released me because of the pandemic. It was a good excuse that it was because of the pandemic that I had to return home, but that was a lie.

I was embarrassed to tell them it was because they just didn’t sign me. From there I ended up staying in Quibdo again. That was hard.

I started training there with my usual coach, Jefferson, and he would pick me up every morning. During the pandemic, none of my friends were studying in school anymore, people were relaxed and enjoying themselves, and I wanted to too. I was too lazy to train. I would tell my coach, "no, no, I'm just hanging out like everyone else, let me relax.”

I had to get up early at six in the morning, and hear “beep beep" as my coach pulled up. It was always him waiting for me on the motorcycle, and it was always very early. Jefferson has always been there for me since I was eight years old. Since the very beginning. About a year after I met him, he happened to move to my neighborhood, as if it was fate. I would always go with him, and he would take me everywhere. Everyone in my neighborhood would say he was my father. We love each other so much. In fact, within his family, his little sister calls me nephew, his mother calls me son.

We would train in the mornings because we lived in one of the most dangerous parts of the city. There's a police station there and everything, but it doesn't matter. We trained far away. By the time we’d get there, it felt like I was almost dragging my feet. He taught me how to get faster all through the pandemic. 

During the pandemic people were still partying. It was a weird time, some people were dying and others enjoying themselves. I went out from time to time, until pretty soon it seemed I was training in the morning and then always going out every night.

I was obviously not doing anything bad, but there came a time when I stopped training altogether, but by then, I had become fast, because of my work with Jefferson. I surprised myself.

But that’s also when I started hanging out on the streets, drinking. I would see my friends enjoying life and there I was always training. So I stopped. I said when the pandemic is over, I'll start training again. 

My mom would be like "no mijo, no," because my parents were already fed up with my antics but then suddenly the pandemic was over.

I had a moment of… now what? What am I going to do with my life?

And I remember after that moment I started to train again, just like I said I would.  

I started training, and training, and training. There was this plan to take two players I was training with to Millonarios, a big Club in Bogata, for a tryout. 

My mom, who was already tired of me because she thought that I was never going to change because I kept going out a lot and things like that, she and my dad talked to coach Jefferson, to see if there was a possibility that he could take me too. 

They didn’t care where I went, as long as I wasn’t in Quibdo anymore. He told them I’ll see what I can do but made no promises. 

So I ended up going with those players to Bogata thanks to coach Santo. It all happened so fast that we basically arrived the day after my mom called my coach. I was basically tagging along. There was no intent for me to make the team, but Jefferson put in a good word for me so that I would at least be allowed to train with them during the tryouts. 

When I got there, I realized my family didn’t have enough money to help me pay for a place to stay. So my coach ended up arranging a spot for me to stay during the tryouts. I owe him a lot of my successes. The next day, the two other players went to Millonarios to go through try-outs, but I didn’t. They wouldn’t let me. Like I said, I was really just there to tag along. 

My coach spoke to one of the coaches there, and asked if they’d at least just let me train, that’s all, and the coach thought about it. They finally said yes and the next day I got to go to the try-outs. 

These tryouts are so difficult because there’s so many people who attend. At this try out, there were about 100 forwards, 40 midfielders, and plenty of defenders and goalkeepers as well. The tryout works by having two teams scrimmage each other, one is a team of players they’ve already seen and the coaches like and the other is from the whole group of players trying out. 

Of course, normally I play winger or midfield, but I had also played a little defense in my hometown. Somehow there were no left backs when they were assembling the team, and even though I usually play on the right as an attacker, I raised my hand when they asked about left backs. When no-one else raised their hand the coach said “oh well, let’s get him in there I guess.”

As it turns out, I played a very good game. Then they picked me for the next game right on the spot, this time against their U-20 team. They pitted me against their fastest and most aggressive winger, but at one point I caught up to him and stole the ball from him. The coaches were impressed and I kept getting selected for games. They even put me in as a winger to see how I’d do there and I scored a goal and got an assist in those few minutes. 

After that day they told me they were going to keep me around to watch me more. I kept training and training until they finally put me in a Millonarios group home. I was officially on trial at the Club. 

But one day at training, I attacked a live ball near the goalkeeper, and when I approached it, so did the keeper. I didn’t want to injure him so I jumped high in the air, but we ended up colliding. I felt my knee roll and I knew I was injured.

I thought to myself, they’re never going to keep an injured player who’s on trial. I told them nothing bad happened and that I wanted to keep going, but the head coach of the team took me in and told me to go back home and recover and then come back.

But I know when someone tells you that they will call you, it’s typically a lie. It had already happened to me at Nacional. 

When I was at home recovering, it turned out it wasn’t serious. It took about a week, I just had a slight dislocation of my knee. That was in November. Then December, January, then February went by and nobody had called me. 

I had taken one of the training shirts from the Millonario try-outs, because Millonario is a very big team in Colombia.

When I returned back home, I wore it everywhere. I washed that shirt everyday and then wore it every day. Everyone around the town would say “take off that shirt, they didn’t pick you, they sent you home.”

I would tell them, “Believe what you want to believe, because I’m the one directing my own movie.”

But I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get asked to go back to Bogata or not. When people would say these things to me, it got in my head a lot. 

By January, I had fully recovered. I centered myself from all the noise and trained really hard. 

Then in February, I got a call. They told me I needed to be there on March 3 and sent me the address to the group home and everything. I thought to myself, “yes, I’m back in the picture.” Everyone in town was happy. 

It was finally my time to travel to Bogota. However Millonarios didn’t give me plane tickets, we had to buy them. Luckily my dad worked in a butcher shop, and his boss was a Millonario fan.

To this day I don't know if he was the one who gave my dad the money for the tickets because my dad had no money at the time, or if it was really my dad because I don't remember, but I did ask him. 

"Well, you’re giving me this money but where did you get it from?”

And all he said was, "Here are the tickets for you to go.”

And well, I obviously thought it was by plane. I was happy because I was going to fly, and it turns out that it was by bus and it was a 24 hour trip. Imagine that I arrived In Bogota exhausted but very happy to be there. 

Then in June, while I was training with Millonarios B team, we started playing in a tournament called the Metropolitano. They nicknamed me “The Devil” because I was very stubborn but I played well. The first team coach attended a lot of these matches so it was important to play well. We played a “Classico” against Sante Fe B, and I got an assist and a goal. They told me afterwards that the coach was watching me, so I was very happy. Then the next game I scored, and then another game followed and I scored again and so on and so on.

Then the coaches called me, they said “Oh, Devil come up, you’re going to be training with the first team for two days.”

Honestly, I was surprised.

I did well during training, and I was aggressive with my chances. The next day I trained again, and then again, the same thing. I kept doing well. Then two days passed, then three days, then four days, then five days, and I was confused because wasn’t it supposed to only be two days?

I began to think, “no way they’re going to keep me here, are they?”

The first team had a game on Saturday and they had me training with the starting team during tactical drills on Thursday. Obviously, I didn’t know anything. 

"Oh, he’s up," the veterans of the team would say while shoving me, hyping me up and things like that.

On Friday I found out I was starting the match. After I finished training, the coaches gave me my uniform. I left the hotel so happy because I didn't expect that at all.

I remember my dad was so happy because my dad loves soccer so much. I called home and told him and I was worried I was going to make him faint.

My dad was so happy, my mom was praying, I was crying with joy because obviously since I was little I always promised them I would get here. That I would be a professional soccer player. 

It was fast, all of this happened so fast. From going to tryouts I wasn’t supposed to be at, to starting for the first team. 

Then the day of the game came on Saturday. 

Everyone was very focused, but I didn't know what to do. I didn’t even know that we had to go downstairs from our rooms to have breakfast, lunch and then a snack.

Then when we left to go to the stadium, I got scared. I did not know what to do.

My heart rate was at a thousand. I looked around at my teammates as they got off the bus and they were all calm while I was physically shaking. I walked through the fans to my left and my right, and my heart was going crazy. 

I decided to pray and ask my mom for a blessing before warmups. Since then I’ve done this before every game. 

The coach released the starting lineup, I saw my name and I wondered, “is this how am I supposed to feel, my heart beating like this?”

What did the coaches tell me? “Play, just play, they said.”

So I just played. 

I stepped on the field and once there was this first kick of the ball, I felt this very zen feeling.

It was an unforgettable moment, so very beautiful. I played all 90 minutes and I believe we won 1-0.

After that match they signed me to a professional contract and started integrating me into the squad. They had just sold Emerson Rodriguez to Inter Miami, so there was a spot open for the taking. 

I kept working until I solidified my spot as a starter. In my first season with Millonarios, I didn't score a goal. I missed a few goals and I attributed that to my anxiety. So the coach worked on that with me a lot. Then in the second season I scored 12 goals and got a couple assists. We even won the Copa Colombia. Thanks to my performances they managed to sell me. 

I had two options; to come to Utah or go to Brazil. I spoke with Jefferson, my coach in Quibdo, and he advised me to come here. He said that it was a better option because the league in the United States has been progressing so much. He has been there for me through everything. And when I came here, it made him happy because leaving Colombia was what I've always wanted,

Thanks to him, I'm here, living my dream, and my father’s dream. A professional soccer player at Real Salt Lake. 

Like I said, it’s quite a story, but a difficult one. But in the end, a beautiful one. 

(This is Part 1 of In My Own Words: Andrés Gómez, Part 2 coming soon)

You can vote Andrés and his RSL teammates into the MLS All-Star game here: https://www.mlssoccer.com/all-star/2023/vote/fan-vote