In life, opportunities are presented to all of us at one point or another. Although they may not come how we imagined they would, destiny still arrives. Just ask Atlanta United 2 player Kevin Barajas.
Barajas, 22, was signed to the club on February 12 after participating in the American Family Insurance Dream Tryouts held in Atlanta last December. The tryout was apart of Atlanta United’s efforts to give undiscovered players in the southeast a unique opportunity to land a professional contract. Hundreds of aspiring players attended the tryout, but only Barajas earned a deal with Atlanta United.
It has been an interesting road back home for the Atlanta native. Born in Marietta, Barajas has always had a love for soccer.
“I remember my very first game when I was a little kid. I was like three or four years old. I just remember I was really fast when I was younger. I was small, but I was super fast. I played in a small league and I was sliding everywhere that first game. I think I scored five or six goals. My mom has a video of it and everything. I was just a happy kid.”
Barajas eventually joined youth club Georgia United, whose coach at the time was current Atlanta United academy director Tony Annan.
“It was really good for me. It was where I became the player I am today. Tony developed me into someone that could actually have a future in the sport.”
Before the U.S. Soccer Federation barred players from simultaneously competing for both their USSDA club and high school team in 2012, Barajas pulled double duty and represented Georgia United and Mt. Paran Christian. This is when he grew into the game.
“In high school I was able to build some confidence more than anything. I think it’s really important in this game. You can be skillful, but if you go into a game or training without any confidence, you’re not going to succeed. I was able to do stuff I normally wouldn’t do and eventually that translated into the academy.”
Barajas signed for the University of Kentucky after his senior season of high school. His first two seasons there were frustrating for him, scoring just three goals and adding two assists in 32 appearances from both the wing and holding midfield positions. Barajas considers this time period to be the toughest challenge he’s ever faced, citing the short college seasons as a major reason why.
“College was a bit of a rough patch for me honestly. The first couple years trying to transition into it was just so different. College soccer as I think many people know isn’t really a whole lot of soccer. The first two years I started to doubt if I’d ever be a professional soccer player.”
However, Barajas’ play improved drastically during his senior year and he was awarded Conference USA honors for his efforts.
“Eventually, I was able to get my mindset right and I was able to succeed a bit in college both playing-wise and skill-wise. When I went to the Cincinnati Dutch Lions and played PDL(Premier Development League) there the summer before my senior year, I think I got over that first hump of doubt from college. I was able to reach that level of confidence I used to have and play some of the best soccer I had played in a long time.”
Throughout that season, he had one thing in mind.
“I was up at 6 a.m. training before school, then I’d go to school, come back and train again, and then go to the gym and lift weights after that. My whole senior year was preparing for what I honestly believed was my next step in being a pro.”
Barajas’ efforts, along with his time in the PDL, summer trainings in Mexico, and the occasional practice with FC Cincinnati, all culminated into Atlanta’s Dream Tryout.
“Tony actually told me about it. I talked to him a few weeks before Kentucky’s season was coming to an end. I asked for advice about what I can do. He said to get an agent and all that. When they announced the tryouts, I saw it on Twitter and literally a couple days later Tony told me about it and said ‘Hey, this is a good opportunity for you. You should come out and see what you can do’. As soon as he said it, I said ‘Alright, I’m there’.”
Barajas understood the difficulty of having to compete against hundreds of other players who were chasing their dreams as well.
“It was different. I mean…I hadn’t done ‘tryouts’ in a long time. The guy who was training me to get ready for it had done something similar before and he said to not just play like how I’m used to playing, but to also have those moments where I shine or else they weren’t going to see me. Every other player there is also good and can play. I couldn’t just play regular soccer. I had to stand out. I didn’t force those moments to happen, but I looked for them.”
After Atlanta United scowered through the play of everyone who signed up, they decided that Barajas was worthy of a USL contract. The opportunity he had long worked for finally came.
“I was laying in bed and I was about to go to the gym to train again. I got the call, they told me they’d like to offer me a spot on the team, and I remember not really being able to say much. When you work really hard for something and put in all those hours, I don’t even know how to describe the feeling, you know? They asked if I had any questions and I said ‘Not right now, but let me call you back’. I had to calm down a bit first. I told my dad and he was obviously ecstatic because he had seen me grouchy when I was at home and I couldn’t find a team. I felt bad because I was moody all the time and you never want to be moody around your parents. It was a relief for my dad. With my mom, I surprised her at dinner and she started crying.”
Barajas hasn’t made his professional debut yet, but he knows his time with Atlanta United 2 is close. In fact, it’s his next goal.
“When my moment comes, I’ll be ready for that moment and show what I have. I’m not putting my head down. It inspires me to work harder. Every match that final whistle blows and I still haven’t played, Monday comes around and I’m working my butt off. Every week, I’m chasing that debut.”