NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodBakersfield


Bakersfield goalie offered spot on pro soccer team in Spain

15-year-old Juan Mendez plans to play pro soccer in Spain in August
Posted at 11:05 AM, Mar 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-19 21:50:12-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Juan Mendez traveled to Spain in January for his tryout with professional soccer team, Rayo Vallecano.

  • Video shows Juan Mendez training with his goalie coach in Bakersfield
  • The coaches called him to offer him a spot on the highest team in his division. He can't sign a pro contract until his 16 years old, but Mendez is just one year away from that opportunity.

You may remember the story of Juan Mendez, the east Bakersfield goalie who got a shot to play to professional soccer with Rayo Vallecano.

Well, now he’s back in Bakersfield after finishing his tryout in Spain back in January.

Protecting the net is Juan Mendez’s goal no matter what opposition he faces whether it’s here in Bakersfield or in Spain.

“All of the kids dream about this when they’re smaller," Juan said. "I got to experience it, especially right now, and it was just like a dream come true for me.”

Scouts with Fundación Rayo Vallecano international academy, one of the teams in La Liga in Spain, offered Juan a pro tryout.

“I would say where I come from, especially me, I would have never thought I’d have that opportunity.”

Juan says he moved from Chicago to Bakersfield to help support his family after his little cousin died in a car crash.

“I do everything for everyone and mostly my little cousin," he said. "He was a big baseball fan, so I gotta do it for him.”

He says it wasn’t easy sleeping on the floor and living with a lot of people in the house, but soccer gave him some rest and a way to honor his cousin on a global scale.

“As soon as you step on the field, it’s like this becomes home to you,” Miguel Gutierrez, Juan’s goalie coach said.

Gutierrez played pro soccer for three decades, and he’s coaching his athletes with hopes to see them play at the highest level too.

“One of the biggest things is to make him stand out,” he said.

Gutierrez adds, Juan’s unique drive to succeed has prepared him to play against some of the most competitive players.

“It’s very intense over there, very different from what we do over here," Gabriel Perez, a center defenseman with Premier Soccer said.

Perez also traveled to Spain for the tryout and says the players push each other more after that experience.

“They support me, and I support them when they’re over there,” Perez said.

Following the week-long tryout in January, Juan came back to Bakersfield, awaiting the news.

“I think I was just laying down, watching the Bulls highlights or something,” he remembered.

Juan says his mom called him to tell him, the academy asked him to come back in August to play for the best team in his division.

“I didn’t think she was being for real," he said. "I thought she was lying, and she’s like ‘Nah, they actually called me,’ and I was like ‘wow, that’s crazy,' I couldn’t believe it.”

That excitement was met with some challenges for Juan and his family.

“The finances are always going to be an obstacle. It seems like because everything keeps getting expensive, but I just tell him, ‘ you guys want to do it, let’s make it happen,'” Erika Mendez, Juan's mom, said.

Mendez says she’s proud of her son’s success and wants to make his dreams possible no matter the cost.

“I’m just trying to put Kern county and just Bakersfield on the map,” he said.

He says he's grateful not only for his mom who’s made it possible but for the community’s support.

“They made me get there.”

Mendez will move to Spain in August to play with the academy, and with the help of his family, he’s selling food and looking for sponsors to support his move.

Stay in Touch with Us Anytime, Anywhere: