After just one semester of playing college soccer for the University of California, Santa Barbara, Lamar Batista was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
Instead of going the traditional route and using every year of his college eligibility, he became part of a special group of athletes when he signed for the Portland Timbers in 2017: the “one-and-dones.”
It is rare to see athletes take the giant leap to the professional level after just one year of competing in college. It is even more scarce to see this happen in soccer. Batista’s decision to forgo the rest of his college career simply stemmed from his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
The transition was quick but had its challenges.
Batista had little time between leaving his college teammates and starting preseason with the Timbers' first team. Although things were developing rapidly, Batista seemed to revel in the moment.
“It was great,” he said, smiling. “Everyone that gets selected to go to these things was chosen for a reason, but it comes down to the consistency of doing your job every day at a high level.”
Batista made the majority of his appearances with the Portland Timbers 2 (T2) in the United Soccer League (USL). In his first professional season with T2, he managed a goal and an assist in 20 matches. After a solid first season, other football organizations would start to notice the defender.
After two years with the Timbers' organization, Batista swapped the green and gold of Portland for the black and gold of Los Angeles. There, he would team up with current RNY FC goalkeeper Phillip Ejimadu, as the pair were officially players of Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) in 2019.
That year, fans were dazzled to see some of the best players in the world play for their hometown teams. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela took over Major League Soccer single-handedly, and Batista was proud to have joined during that golden era.
“I think 2019 was one of the greatest years in MLS,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience to be a part of, training with those types of players every single day. It’s something I eventually want to get back to.”
Batista continued reaching new heights that a younger version of himself could only dream about.
Born in Texas, Batista was adopted by his parents at the age of 3. They raised him in Oklahoma City, where he grew to love the game of football.
He played for various clubs and organizations such as the Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP), which allowed him to mature into the player he aspired to be.
After making no appearances for LAFC, and playing irregular minutes during stints at North Texas SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Batista was presented with an alluring opportunity to return to his hometown.
Enter Oklahoma City Energy Football Club.
The switch was exactly what the 6-foot-6 central defender needed to bring consistent playing time and belief back into his career. “This feels great; this was something I wanted to do at some point in my career,” Batista said in an interview on the team's YouTube page.
Batista played 15 times for the club before joining Bruno Baltazar at RNY FC. The prospect of playing under Baltazar, and with other top professionals, was more than enough to convince Batista.
Dr. Lee Tucker, sporting director of RNY FC, played a significant role in recruiting Batista and believes he has a bright future in store.
“He’s getting better all the time and he’s got huge potential to get to the next level,” Dr. Tucker said. “His height, his pace, his leadership and his composure on the ball; he’s got a lot going for him.”
The team is currently in red hot form, and Batista is at the center of it all – literally. No one has played more minutes for RNY FC, and he leads the league in interceptions (36). As impressive as his statistics may be, contributing to the team’s success is his primary goal.
“We want to be the first placed team,” he said. “We had a rough start, but the truth of the matter is that we weren’t prepared because of delays and things. Those stats are cool and all, but it's nice holding a trophy.”
And with this being the inaugural season for both MLSNEXTPro and RNY FC, Batista wants to set a significant precedent for future players.
“We want to set the tone early,” Batista said. “Each year we’re only going to get better, and so we need to start the standard now as a hardworking, focused group and a fun one to watch.”
|Soccer and football are used interchangeably|