To say Omar Salgado has had an off-season is a bit of a misnomer.
The 18-year-old, selected first overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft by Vancouver Whitecaps FC, ended his season with Martin Rennie's unconventional postseason training camp, and since then has had training sessions and matches in Germany, the Netherlands, and England.
Now, after a few weeks off with friends and family, which he mainly spent in El Paso, Texas, with family, Salgado is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, training with the United States U-20 national team.
“It’s different because it’s a lot quicker,” Salgado told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Tuesday, discussing the style of soccer in Europe. “I felt [the speed] in Fulham and I felt it in the Netherlands. Being in the Netherlands, it’s not as physical – you couldn’t really touch the players – I don’t know if it was the referees or the way they play there, but it was different. In MLS, it’s a lot more physical, but there, it was just about playing the ball.”
His European journey began with a trip to Germany with the United States U-23 squad, where Tab Ramos ran a camp from November 7 to 15.
From there, Salgado went to London, where he trained with English Premier League side Fulham FC from November 17 to December 4, and linked up with fellow Texan Clint Dempsey.
The U.S. international took Salgado under his wing during his time training in England, even having him over for Thanksgiving dinner.
“He invited me over to his house a couple of times,” Salgado said. “He has a great family and I’m really happy for him for what he’s been doing the past few weeks. I’m really grateful to him and his wife for taking me in and taking care of me, while I was over there.”
The forward trained mainly with the reserve squad but did take part in a number of first-team sessions.
“I got to train with the first team a couple of times,” Salgado said. “It was great to see the guys you see on TV every day, so to play with them was awesome, and you get to see they’re normal people just like everyone else. They impressed me with the way they played and I learned a lot from them.”
Not long after, Salgado participated in a Generation adidas tour from December 5 to 15 in the Netherlands, during which he played against the youth team of famous Dutch club Ajax, and took in a UEFA Champions League match between Ajax and Real Madrid.
“It was good to be with players close to my age, and players in a similar environment to me,” Salgado said of the Generation adidas tour. “I learned how to play with these guys and how to adjust to different types of players – it was a great experience for me.”
Whitecaps FC are hoping these varied experiences in foreign environments will help their prized asset bring his game to the next level.
“If he’s taken these experiences on the way it was expected, then I think he’ll have learned a lot,” Rennie said. “I think he’ll realize the level of play at the highest levels in Europe is very, very high, and that the standard of training is very high. You need to be ready to train hard every single day.
"He’s a young player - he still has a lot of physical development to do and a lot of development as a player to do, but he definitely has the raw talents and materials to be a very good player.”
Now, the aim for Salgado is to continue to push on and impress Rennie enough to play a bigger role for Vancouver next season, where he played only 504 minutes over 14 MLS matches in his debut season.
“I think it will be a new start for me,” Salgado said. “I think I’ll be a new player. These experiences really helped me a lot and I feel like I grew up a lot more and I’m more mature. I hope I start out well and that I play a lot more than last season, and if not, I’ll keep being patient and hopefully show what I can do when I get picked.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon