Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez’s initial gut reaction was fear.
The 14-year-old Atwater resident was lying on his couch when his mom came home saying he wasn’t going to believe it. Ocampo-Chavez said that was about all he got out of the conversation, because his mom was a little too pumped up.
“My mom came in screaming, but I couldn’t really understand what she was saying, so I thought something was wrong,” Ocampo-Chavez said. “Finally she calmed down a little bit and told me she’d gotten off the phone with my coach (Fernando Aguileras) and that the Seattle Sounders had seen me play and wanted me to come be a part of their youth academy.”
Ocampo-Chavez’s fear turned to disbelief. It’s a feeling that his Merced Atlas Academy teammate Axel Ramirez shared when the soon-to-be Merced High School sophomore received a similar call.
They will leave for Seattle on Sunday along with Aguileras, who is also the Atlas president, for a five-day visit. Ocampo-Chavez, who has trained with the U.S. under-14 squad for the last year and led his age group with 34 goals last season, has already signed with the Sounders and will be getting an idea of where he will be living and training. Ramirez is going for a tryout with the academy with the hopes of joining his teammate.
“The whole thing is incredible,” Ramirez said. “I just found out last week. Obviously, it’s my dream to play professional soccer, but coming out of Merced you don’t really think it’s going to happen.
“I’m pretty nervous right now. I just don’t know what to expect from the other kids I’ll be playing with. I’m excited too, though. I think playing varsity last year is going to help me out a lot. I’m not that big for a forward, but it forced me to play against bigger and stronger opponents. That’s kind of what I’m expecting in Seattle.”
In addition to meeting the Seattle Sounders brass and getting a first-hand look at the facilities, they will be treated to a game when Seattle hosts FC Dallas at Century Link Field on Wednesday.
“I’m excited about the whole thing,” Ocampo-Chavez said. “It’ll be like the fourth major stadium I’ve been to, and they get crazy crowds at their games. It was a pretty easy decision deciding to join the academy.
“At first I was a little scared, because I’d have to move to Seattle and my family is staying here. But I thought about it and decided that everyone who is pro also had to leave their family at some time. This is a great opportunity and one I can’t pass up.”
For Ocampo-Chavez, this is just the first of a number of trips to Seattle this summer. He’ll fly back out in a couple of weeks ahead of the academy’s trip to England, where they will play and train.
Ramirez said he’ll be joining him if he gets the chance.
“Without a doubt I’m accepting their offer if they make one,” Ramirez said. “This is an opportunity that may never happen again. This is the dream. You play well, somebody sees you and you get your shot.”
Aguileras said they’re the first in club history to be given such an opportunity. He hopes it opens the door for other Merced talent and kids in the surrounding Valley.
“These two players work incredibly hard and deserve this opportunity,” Aguileras said. “Their families are very excited and sad at the same time because they’re moving away. It’s a good opportunity and good exposure for them and the club.
“Hopefully this inspires other local soccer players that they can also do something like this.”