Few players at the upcoming MLS Combine bring a similar background with them to Florida like Michael Salazar.
Salazar arrives at this week’s combine after a sterling career at UC Riverside. But that’s not where his story began.
Born in New York, Salazar moved to his parents’ native Belize, where he lived for 18 years. He returned to the United States for a year of high school, before beginning his college career at Cal Baptist. After winning an NCCAA title, the dynamic and speedy forward transferred to Riverside for the final three seasons of his college eligibility.
A dual citizen of both the United States and Belize, Salazar is a potential first round pick in the upcoming MLS Draft. TDS caught up with him ahead of the combine.
TDS: How would you describe yourself as a player?
Michael Salazar: I would say that I’m a very dynamic player, I can play in multiple positions and I’m very quick on the ball.
TDS: You had a little bit of an unusual route to the MLS combine and DI soccer. How did you end up at UC Riverside?
MS: Growing up in Belize, a lot of my family lived in Moreno Valley, which is really close to River. So I always wanted to come out here. I didn’t know anything about college soccer, just wanted to play, didn’t matter where I went. I didn’t know what it was like. My coach from high school, because I played one year of high school here in the United States, he told this is a good place to go, he had good connection with the coaches, so he was the one who hooked me up at Cal Baptist. I didn’t look at any other school because I thought every school would play each other, it didn’t matter where I went, I didn’t do any research at all or anything like that. I had a really successful time there, I won pretty much every trophy you could at that level with [Cal Baptist] and I wanted a bigger challenge so I decided I wanted to move to a Division I school that was close to my family, and Riverside was the perfect place to go.
TDS: What were some of the big differences when you made the switch from Cal Baptist to UC Riverside?
MS: Definitely the playing style. Playing at Cal Baptist we were much more of a possession-based team, we would have 60, 65 percent of the ball so I would be on the ball every single time. I played up top so I could come down, get the ball and play freely, and I thought I was really successful in that role. Moving to Riverside, it was much more of a direct kind of game, so I had to adjust my game, be a hold up type of player, laying off the ball, playing much faster. I felt like that was one of the major differences.
TDS: I noticed that you played for PSA Elite and faced the LA Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup, where you scored a goal against them. What was that experience like?
MS: Playing with PSA Elite, they gave me a great opportunity to be successful and put me in a good position to showcase myself as a player and what I’m really good at. Playing against Galaxy was a dream come true for me, because growing up as a little kid, knowing European soccer, Galaxy was the only team I really knew of because of Landon Donovan and players like that. Growing up, I’ve always been like if I came to the United States that would be a team I would look at, I’ve always looked up to them. Scoring against them is definitely a dream come true and knowing if I can do this at this level, I know I can play with the [pros].
TDS: What are you hoping to showcase at the combine?
MS: I just want to go out there and showcase my talent, just want to be put in a good position to be successful, using all my dynamic ability, pace, everything I can do.
TDS: What has it been like to play for the Belize full national team?
MS: It’s definitely a learning experience playing with older guys, being the youngest guy on the team. They gave me a lot of information of just how to be successful playing at this level: paying attention to the little things. I feel like those guys are really willing to help.
Salazar is represented by Kevin Weinress (First Wave Sports).