Alex Salazar moves the ball upfield at McNary’s Blue Day event last year. Salazar will be leaving McNary to go the Barcelona Soccer Academy in Arizona (File).

Coming in to the 2020-21 school year, it appeared that Alex Salazar would be the main star on the McNary boys’ soccer team.

However, Salazar was recently granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.

Salazar will forego his senior season at McNary to join the Barcelona Soccer Academy for the next two years in Casa Grande, Arizona — a full-time residential academy program that is partnered with Futbol Club (FC) Barcelona, one of the best professional teams in the world.

“I am so proud of Alex. I am really excited for him to start this new soccer adventure in his life. Also, I am excited for his mom and family because they are Alex's instrumental support. Alex has worked hard all these years in club and high school, he deserves this opportunity and hopefully some day in the near future he can achieve his goal to make it to the pro level,” McNary head coach Miguel Camarena said.

Salazar was swimming at a lake when he got the call from his mom about being accepted into the academy. He was speechless when he found out.

For a kid that used to run around playing soccer non-stop with his dad at the age of five, this was a surreal moment for Salazar.

“I had no words. I couldn’t believe it. Getting accepted is a dream come true,” Salazar said. “I feel like this could be the start of something special.”

Student-athletes at the academy will get the opportunity to compete at the highest levels within the MLS Elite Youth Development Platform. They will also will reside at the Grande Sports World campus, which features on-site dormitories, eight soccer fields, professional nutritional programming and a 58,000 square foot athletic training facility — which was named the best training facility by USA Soccer for three straight years.

The facility also includes a lounge area equipped with TVs, gaming systems, ping-pong, and pool tables, hot and cold plunge therapy pools and an adjacent hotel and golf resort for parents’ visitation.

“You get treated like you’re a professional player there,” Salazar said.

Salazar will finish his high school education with Arizona State University’s prep academy and then start taking college courses in year two.

Every graduate from the Barcelona academy has received either a college scholarship or signed a professional contract. Graduates also get the opportunity to train and tryout with FC Barcelona.

“Whether it’s playing at a good college or signing a pro contract, I don’t care. I will play anywhere,” Salazar said.

Salazar first tried out for the academy last summer. While he didn’t make the team, coaches encouraged him to make a few tweaks to his game, then come back to try out again the following summer.

In the 2019 season, Salazar led McNary in scoring with five goals and six assists in the Celtics run to the postseason. In July, Salazar attended a three-day tryout in Arizona and discovered that he made the Barcelona team a couple weeks later.

“Last year, they told me that I needed to be quicker with the ball, so that’s what I worked on all season,” Salazar said.

Although he has been a forward for the majority of is career, Salazar plans to move to defender for the next two years.

“I suggested to Alex to play as right back defender because of his vision, technique, endurance and speed, which at this level that’s the position that I believe is going to make him shine,” Camarena said.

Salazar arrived at the academy last week and is currently going through his first week of practice.

“I’m just excited to go to work every single day and ball out. I have such a heart and passion for this game. I know that I can do this and I am ready to show everyone,” Salazar said. 

“Alex is a really good player, my expectation is for him to work extra hard every day to improve in all areas in the game, technical, tactical, physical and mental, and to challenge himself in every practice and game. Alex is going to learn a lot more having pro coaches and high-quality players around him practicing and playing daily. If you are a player practicing and playing with good players naturally your level will increase. Also, he is going to see the sacrifice players need to make to try to achieve a goal to the next level, he is going to mature faster and he is ready and excited for this opportunity,” Camarena added.

Salazar’s tuition costs $75,000 over the next two years. Although he received a $21,000 scholarship, he is still looking to raise an additional $53,000. Salazar has set up a GoFundMe page for anyone interested in donating (http://gf.me/u/yjd25w).