Getting the start for Real Salt Lake on Saturday came as a surprise to rookie Sebastien Velasquez. But his contribution to the side’s 3-1 win away to the MLS Cup champions, LA Galaxy, probably shouldn’t.
“The first time I’d seen him was in preseason,” coach Jason Kreis told Salt Lake ABC affiliate KTVX before the start of the match. “He’s done well enough to earn a starting position tonight. I think it might be the first time any rookie under me has started the first match of the year, but he’s earned it.”
The 36th pick in the Superdraft, Velasquez was a bit of a longshot to make the team. He’s only the second junior college player to be drafted (the other was former RSLer Yura Movsisyan). But his creativity and attacking abilities showed enough in preseason to earn him the start against LA in place of Will Johnson, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery performed earlier in the week.
“I was very excited,” Velasquez told MLSsoccer.com via phone after the match. “It was an amazing feeling. It’s something that I’ll never forget. When we were looking at the lineup, [I realized that] Landon Donovan was going to be on my side.”
For all his offensive qualities, Velasquez was more concerned about his defensive responsibilities.
“To be honest what I did [on Friday] night was watch video,” he admitted. “I was watching highlight videos of them against Real Salt Lake, and I was trying to trigger myself with how I can mark Landon.”
The video session appeared to be successful. Other than a long-range volley that struck the crossbar, Donovan had a relatively quiet night for the Galaxy.
But it wasn’t defense that got people talking about Velasquez after the match. He had a great look at goal in the first half, but pushed the ball wide. His slashing style earned several freekicks, particularly in the second half. And in the 73rd minute, Velasquez whipped in a cross that deflected off of LA defender Sean Franklin and into the goal, leveling the score at one apiece.
“I just wanted to see the net shake,” Velasquez admitted.