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From left to right: Juan Carlos JR. (Julian's oldest brother), Juan Carlos Sr. (Father), Julian Vazquez, Diego Vazquez (youngest brother), and Wendy Vazquez (mother)

Sporting Kansas City II’s Julian Vazquez scored the most important goal of his career in week 7 of the MLS NEXT Pro season. It was his first for the SKC II organization, and it came in the 73rd minute of a 4-2 win over Real Monarchs. The game took place on Sunday, May 8th, Mother’s Day, and only 294 days after Vazquez lost his mother Wendy to cancer. His mother was his biggest supporter growing up in Utah and seemingly looked down on him that day to help push his boot forward as he struck the ball and found the back of the net.

“It meant a lot to me, especially it being on Mother's Day,” Vazquez said

“It meant a lot to me, especially it being on Mother's Day,” Vazquez said. The 21-year-old forward said he couldn’t have done it without her, but going into the match, he knew that it was going to be his day to share with her.

“My dad actually talked to me before the game and he was like 'Oh, you’ve gotta score. You gotta score for your mom today,' And I had a feeling that I would… I had a really good feeling I was gonna have a good game. Before the game, I put some tape on my wrist and I wrote my mom’s name on it. After I scored, I just kissed my wrist.”

The celebration was a moment of reflection for Vazquez, but also a late tribute to his mother Wendy, who he knew was there at that moment watching. “Honestly, my biggest takeaway is that I got to do it for my mom.”

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The journey Vazquez has gone on has “100% been for family,” he said. But his late mother, particularly, is never out of his thoughts.

“I had a really great relationship with my mom. I think it was hardest on her when I moved away. I have an older and younger brother also. And so, for her, she didn't think it would be me to be the first one to move out. She always thought it would be my older brother. And so seeing me move away from home as the first I mean, it was really hard on her. But I just remember every time I got to spend time with my family. After I left, it almost rejuvenated me to get back, and going home made me realize I'm doing this for a reason.”

Vazquez’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed of late and making his family proud remains key in his approach. He told MLSNEXTPro.com that not only was that goal a tribute to his late mother but that it also felt like it was the moment where his season truly began. He followed up his Week 7 opener with another strike into the back of the net in Week 8, which caught the attention of first-team head coach Peter Vermes.

Vermes and the SKC organization are now elevating the Vazquez by signing him to a one-match loan for Wednesday evening when Sporting Kansas City hosts the Colorado Rapids in a Major League Soccer Western Conference clash. The transaction was announced Tuesday afternoon and with the opportunity presented, Vazquez has a chance to make the biggest jump of his career yet.

It won’t be the first time Vazquez has had an opportunity to propel forward in his career, just the latest achievement in that process.

A young dreamer, Vazquez’s story dates back to the hopes and dreams of a 14-year-old who dropped everything he knew, left everyone he loved, and took a leap of faith, all for football and family.

The Journey Begins: A leap of faith

The leap of faith Vazquez made saw him make a jump across state lines, moving to Casa Grande, Arizona to enroll in Real Salt Lake’s youth academy. Over 800 miles from everything he knew, Vazquez took a chance on what he described as one of the most difficult decisions he’s made along this journey. However, looking back, he doesn’t regret anything for a second.

“I always knew I wanted to become a pro soccer player, but at such a young age, you don't really realize how much you have to sacrifice to actually become one,” Vazquez said. “Moving away from home and leaving my family and friends behind. I mean, it was pretty challenging. But I look back now and I think I'd do it again and again… every single time. I don't think I'd have it any other way.”

The journey was a three-year process, with ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns. The challenge wasn’t only on the field but also about learning to live on his own in a completely new home setting. Vazquez described difficulties in adapting to training habits, eating habits, and moving into the adult stage of life faster than he had ever expected to.

“Training, I mean it’s a different level. So, I mean, I used to only train three, four times a week with my club, and then I moved to the academy and then you train every day. And so that was a hard adjustment and just staying fit for training and games every single day.”

One of the more difficult habits to break was his love of candy – especially his favorite, Sweet Tarts Ropes. However, Vazquez admittedly said that every now and then, he’d walk by the candy aisle on those grocery shopping trips with the academy and sneak a few pieces of candy to please his sweet tooth.

As a young teenager, he began to learn what it meant to sacrifice, endure and learn on the way to becoming a professional. However, it was still just a dream at that point. He didn’t realize what was in store for him along his journey, for both club and country.

Three years passed in the blink of an eye, and the RSL academy was headed home back to Utah. A change of scenery and a trip back home saw Vazquez and the RSL academy move from Casa Grande to Herriman, Utah. Vazquez was finally home, back in Utah, where in his eyes, he was meant to be.

“Yeah, that was a blessing. I mean, I was still two hours away from home where the academy was located, but I mean, just being able to go home for the weekend or having my family come out to the home games. It was really nice to have all the support.”

With a family-first mentality, Vazquez has climbed the ladder all thanks to his loved ones. Vazquez and his brothers grew up surrounded by the game through their love of it. His father coached at their local high school and even won a state championship with his eldest brother, Juan Carlos. The trio of siblings were inseparable in their younger stages of life, and even now, grown-up, they still come together as one.

“We did everything together. Even my younger brother, all three of us would play together outside whether it was soccer, basketball, or just hanging around and I mean, we're at an older stage in our lives and my older brother is married now, so I don't get to see him as much anymore. But whatever we do, we always make the most of it.”

The return to Utah, despite being two hours apart, saw Vazquez “rejuvenated” as he was reunited with his supporting cast. all while a new family in the RSL system was beginning to come about.

“It was nice being at Real Salt Lake when we moved to Herriman. As an academy player, I would train with the first team also and a lot of the guys gave me advice… like Nick Rimando would talk to me a lot, Kyle Beckerman would talk to me a lot. They were pretty good role models for me as a young player, as an academy player. And they helped me a lot in the process.”

Reality arrives as the dream fades: Julian Vazquez is a professional footballer

That process eventually paid off, as Vazquez was announced as the 16th ever homegrown signing out of the RSL academy on Saturday, October 6, 2018. The announcement came at halftime of the first team's match against the Portland Timbers in front of a packed Rio Tinto Stadium with Vazquez and his family walking out onto the pitch during the break.

“I did all my signing the day before and the GM told me that they were going to announce me at halftime the following day, and so I was super excited. And being able to walk in the field and hear the announcer saying that I'm a homegrown in front of a packed stadium… it’s definitely a moment I will not forget.”

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“It suddenly hit really fast like that. I was actually like a professional, having my family there and watching me and then being able to come down on the field with me. That was probably my biggest takeaway.”

Following his announcement as a homegrown product of the RSL academy, his life on the pitch moved forward quicker than he could imagine. The following year, Vazquez received his first call-up to the Mexico Youth National Team while being a part of then-RSL United Soccer League (USL) affiliate, Real Monarchs. A “humbling” experience, Vazquez reflected on the opportunities that he was presented with at such a young age. 

“I mean, it's always an honor to be called up, especially even at the youth level to play with the national team. I got to go on some pretty amazing trips with the team and being able to travel around the world with them, that was, that was really cool.”

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Vazquez remembers his first-ever goal on international duty, scoring a curling effort from the top of the box on the left side of the pitch; a moment he described in detail, a memory he’ll never forget.

“I remember my first goal with them in an actual competition. And it was, it was actually in Dubai, we played against Russia. I got my first goal with the national team. And that's the moment that I'll remember forever. It was in the second half. We were tied 1-1 and then I was on the left side. I was playing left wing at the time. I got a ball and I got it out wide. I was at the top of the 18th and I shot it across the goal, far post.”

That same season, Real Monarchs ended up winning the USL Championship, with Vazquez on the roster. Their playoff run proved to be a crucial experience for a young Vazquez, who learned from the veterans on the roster along the way.

“That was my first year as a pro. And so to be able to, to win it in my first year. It was pretty surreal. I mean, I wasn't getting as much playing time as I would have liked, but I mean, it was still a great learning experience, to see the guys ahead of me to see what they would do. We had a special group that year.”

Vazquez and Real Salt Lake parted ways after the conclusion of that season, with Vazquez eventually joining the Las Vegas Lights of the USL for one season, where he made 24 appearances for the club. Vazquez then parted ways with the Lights at the end of the 2021 season.

The dream continues: Julian Vazquez joins MLS NEXT Pro.

In January 2022, Vazquez signed an MLS NEXT Pro contract with Sporting KC II and is now playing under MLS and Sporting Kansas City legend Benny Feilhaber in the league’s inaugural season.

“Yeah, I love being here, I think I fit. I’ve been doing really well and we have a good group of guys,” Vazquez said. “Off the field. I think it's a great league. Also, I mean, we didn't really know what to expect, we’re (eight) games in right now and you can really tell that the level is high and teams are (so) even almost I feel like anyone could win any game.”

Vazquez believes that having a transition league like MLS NEXT Pro will prove crucial to the development of academy kids who may have been in a spot like him when he was signed as an RSL homegrown product.

“It's going to be a lot easier for the Academy kids to see at a young age, and to train with pros, and it's gonna give them an opportunity I feel like.”

Vazquez described playing for Feilhaber as “a great experience” but honed in on how knowledgeable he is and how influential he’s been to his growth this season as an attacker on the field.

Now eight matches into the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season, Vazquez’s journey continues in the Sporting Kansas City organization. Through hard work, determination, and sacrifice, Vazquez has found his way back to the top and is being given a chance to make the most of his next opportunity on Wednesday evening.