In 2011, it looked certain that Villyan Bijev was heading to the Pacific Northwest to play collegiately at the University of Washington.
But before that, Bijev, a standout with Development Academy club Cal Odyssey, found his way to Liverpool where he enjoyed a successful trial, earning a contract from the prestigious English Premier League club. After signing him, Liverpool sent the U.S. U20 Men’s National Team pool player out on loan to Bundesliga 2 club Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Now, several months into his move to Europe, Bijev is catching on to a new way of life.
“The adjustment to Germany has gone very well,” he wrote TopDrawerSoccer.com in an email. “The players and staff have been very helpful in my transition. I have Sky TV, which allows me to watch movies and football matches in English. I'm also learning German little by little, which is also helping the transition.”
In his final season with Cal Odyssey, Bijev dominated the Development Academy, scoring 20 goals in 19 games. To no surprise, the early transition from that level to the professional ranks was a huge leap, not to mention moving away from home for the first time.
“The first few months in Germany were definitely a challenge,” he said. “Coming from the Development Academy and training with a team that's at the top of the second league in Germany was tough. Every aspect of the game was more serious.
“My main challenge was adapting to the game mentally and tactically. Leaving home for the first time and entering the football world was tough at first. Luckily for me I quickly realized that this is where I want to be. I want to be a professional footballer and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”
Bijev, who turned 19 earlier this year, is a member of the U.S. U20 player pool. He was called into camp in January and February in Florida, although he wasn’t called in to this week’s camp in Portland.
Getting to come back home for those camps was a nice experience, and Bijev is aiming to make the qualifying team.
“Heading back to the States for the U20 national team was a treat,” he said. “I got to see some friends that I hadn't seen for a long time. Everyone speaking English around me was nice too.
“I'm very fortunate that (U20 MNT head coach) Tab (Ramos) invited me to the camps and I'm looking forward to being a part of the group. Another one of my goals is to play in the U20 World Cup. Since this will be my only chance I'm willing to do whatever I can to help the team qualify.”
Excelling at Düsseldorf is one way to do that, and on April 5, Bijev made his professional debut against Hansa Rostock, a big step for the youngster.
“Making my debut was just a big relief,” Bijev said. “The coach hadn't given me any indication that I would get to play but I was ready regardless. When the coach called me over to sub in I was just happy. I really wanted to play and I was eager to get into the game. Thinking about it now this was just something I could check off of my long to do list in professional football. Getting a taste of what it's like only made me thirsty for more.”
Alejandro Guido happy with friendly faces at Club Tijuana
On March 21, Club Tijuana added another U.S. youngster to its contingent with the signing of former U.S. U17 World Cup veteran Alejandro Guido.
Shortly after inking the professional contact with Club Tijuana, Guido joined the U.S. U18 Men’s National Team where he was among only a handful of other professional players in camp.
“Now you are a professional, you have to show the other players what the top level is, and try to get everyone to that point,” Guido told TopDrawerSoccer.com about the pressures he felt at camp as a professional player.
The talented midfielder is not only as a U.S. youth international on Club Tijuana. Esteban Rodriguez also signed with the Mexican club earlier this year.
“Of course, it is also nice to have teammates from national team at your club,” Guido said with a smile.