For the bulk of every aspiring professional soccer player in the United States, moving to Europe is seen as the goal.
But realistically, unless it’s a significant transfer to a club, it’s just a starting point for the majority.
U.S. U17 MNT pool player Cade Hagan became one of the latest to move abroad, joining the Sporting de Gijon Academy, a club in the Segunda Division of Spain, earlier this year.
The Chicagoland native bounced from the LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire to Sockers FC over the past few Development Academy seasons, but when his father’s work transferred him to Madrid on a more permanent basis, Hagan jumped at the chance to come along.
“Ever since I was nine, my dad’s business has been going back and forth from Madrid to back in the U.S. every few years,” Hagan told topdrawersoccer.com. “Every time he visited Spain I came along with him. I’ve had offers in the past few years from Germany, England and Spain. The first club I went to when I was younger was Sporting [de Gijon] and I came along with my dad. [Last] summer my dad decided that he’d been coming out here a lot, he decided that it would be good for him to move out here. So he pretty much got transferred out here.”
With his new club in the middle of the season, Hagan’s slated to play out the bulk of the current campaign with SD Llano, a partner club of Gijon.
It wasn’t the first club to offer him a deal. When the opportunity to move was first on the table, Hagan went to another club first.
“I had an offer from Rayo Vallecano as well and I trained with Rayo for a few weeks and Sporting for a few weeks,” he said. “Both offered me a spot last summer and I just felt more comfortable at Sporting. It’s a small town, everyone is very welcoming. For developing, the academy is definitely one of the top in Spain. Their Juvenil De Honor beat Barca last year and lost in the national final to Atletico.”
Hagan’s pathway to Spain has already taken him to various corners of the world. Born in 2002, he’s eligible for this year’s U.S. Under-17 MNT World Cup cycle and has appeared with the U15 BNT in past camps dating back to 2016.
At the club level, Hagan first started playing for local clubs, starting with Team Chicago and then at the Chicago Magic. When he was 12, he played up with the Magic's U14 DA side (the club no longer competes in the DA). Eventually, he joined the Galaxy for the 2015-16 season, scoring nine goals in 20 appearances with the U13/14 side. He returned home after that season, playing for the Fire and Sockers before moving the Spain this summer.
His time on the continent has been a welcome one, from the immersion in the culture to the step up in level on the field.
“The intensity of every training is definitely a lot higher,” Hagan said. “Everybody’s just constantly moving and the coach is constantly yelling at us to move faster and motivate us. Every training is really intense, everybody’s always locked in. Training with Sporting every day is kind of like training with the national team every day. Everybody has the same style and understands what they need to do, has their game plan, plays their role.”
It’s a style that Hagan feels compliments him well.
“For me, I love the Spanish style, if we’re in our own half, we’re playing out of the back and everybody’s constantly moving and taking each other’s spot, playing one-touch, two-touch, creating triangles to eventually get into the attacking third,” he said. “Once you get into the attacking third, there’s no restrictions at all, you can try different things and have freedom to dribble players, shoot, every time you take on a player or shoot, it’s always encouraged.”
Growing up in the inner city of Chicago, Hagan started playing soccer when he was three. When he was a bit older (around seven), he started to hone his craft in a park near his house, having the chance to play pickup games against older opponents.
He credits that for helping make him into the player and person he is as he looks to find his way in Spain.
“I think it was a really big part of my development, just for my freedom, to try different things on my own without restriction,” Hagan said. “It also good for me as a person just to meet new people and fall in love more with the game. It helped a lot just playing unorganized soccer.”
With his near-term future sorted, Hagan remains an option for the U.S. U17 MNT should the opportunity arise. He earned a call-up to the Youth National Team Summit at the start of 2018 but hasn’t appeared in a camp since.
Moving to Spain could potentially inhibit his chances of getting called into Concacaf qualifying in May, simply because he won’t be competing in the heavily-scouted DA. But Hagan – who remains eligible for college and is keeping his options open – has a clear goal in mind that he’s striving towards in 2019.
“My main focus is pretty much to continue to work hard and my goal is to become a professional soccer player,” he said, “So [I’m] sticking with that goal and keep working until that happens.”