Fernandez spent three months playing across the pond in Valencia, Spain, at the U-16 level.
Windermere resident and former Horizon High student Sebastian Fernandez spent three months at the end of last year playing with the Levante UD team in Valencia, Spain, at the U-16 level, known in Spain as Cadete A.
“The decision was spontaneous,” he said of playing overseas. “I feel like every kid in America would love the opportunity to go play in Europe. So, it was a no-brainer for me; it was just a matter of getting the option (to do it).”
Like so many, the chance to play overseas was a dream come true — and the next step in a journey that has lasted most of Fernandez’s life.
Born in Venezuela, Fernandez has been playing soccer since he could walk. His mother, Dayana Figueroa, said when he was 1, she tried to give him books but he just put those aside in favor of his soccer ball.
He also loved watching his dad play.
He began to play at the Club Italo in Barquisimeto — Venezuela, at age 3. He took his play to the national competitive level at age 6 with the Deportivo Lara team.
Then in 2014, his family moved to the United States. Fernandez was 8.
“The first thing we did was search the area to find a soccer school to enroll him in,” Figueroa said.
He started playing at Orlando Star in Kissimmee and played there for about three years. He transferred to Orlando City, but because it was a really far drive back and forth, his parents moved him to the All Star Soccer Academy in Dr. Phillips.
“We always saw he became better and wanted to take another step,” Figueroa said.
In 2017, Fernandez started to play for Florida Rush Soccer, for whom he played until he earned his spot with Levante UD.
In 2019 and 2020, he participated in the Disney ESPN Laliga.
THE ROAD TO VALENCIA
Fernandez’s uncle, Andy Fernandez, lives in Valencia. He showed a highlight video of Fernandez playing soccer to his neighbor, Daniel Infante, the agent who put Fernandez’s father, Julio, and one of the team’s coaches, Alvaro Del Moral, in touch.
“They discussed whether I could come to trials for two weeks,” Fernandez said. “And I ended up going there between the end of August and the beginning of September.”
He received his offer to play three weeks after tryouts. He was in one of his classes at Horizon High School when he received the call.
“I actually got a call from my uncle at school; I was in math,” Fernandez said. “He told me that they had offered me a trial for two weeks. I ended up playing with them for three months.”
The program offered intensive training every day of the week, with games taking place on weekends.
“We loved the idea of him learning from different coaches in a different team,” Figueroa said. “His dad said his growth (during his time there) was incredible.”
During his time with the team, Fernandez trained twice a day, in the mornings and afternoons. The remaining time of the day was for the kids to tend to their academics.
“When we spoke to the coaches, they said the kids had to meet a certain schedule to do their homework,” Figueroa said. “They couldn’t leave the installations, they had certain days they could go out, and the outings had to be authorized.”
During his application process, Fernandez applied for financial aid. The percentage of the scholarship he would be offered depended solely on his tryouts. He received a scholarship for 75% of the tuition.
While in Valencia, Fernandez stayed at the Global Football Total, the official center of the Global-Levante project. He said the competition made him a better player and the memories will last a lifetime.
“I became really good friends with the kid who played my position,” he said. “But in the beginning, there was a lot of competition, because it was a matter of who got the starting role in the games and the practices and everything. But it was always healthy; it was never bad.”
Parallel to his development as a soccer player in Valencia, Fernandez also was in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. On Nov. 10, he had to come back to Windermere to attend the appointment for his biometric fingerprints on Nov. 12. He went back to Valencia Nov. 16 and stayed until Dec. 23.
And on Jan. 31, he became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.
Currently, Fernandez’s days are filled with schoolwork and twice-a-day training. He still is in touch with Del Moral and Levante UD and hopes to return to Spain after graduation to play professionally in the third or fourth leagues.
“Those are underrated leagues here in America,” he said. “But over there is not as easy but is definitely not super hard to get in. And once you are there, you can make your way to the big leagues.”
Fernandez comes from a long line of soccer excellence. Julio Fernandez, Sebastian’s dad, and his uncle, Andy Fernandez, played soccer at the national level in Venezuela. Currently, Julio Fernandez continues to play soccer at the Central Florida Soccer League in the Premier league.
“My pride was beyond me,” Julio Fernandez said. “They were already starting to call him for the first team, and then he had to come back.”
He added that during Fernandez’s time with Global Football Total, coaches wanted him to start training with the Patacona team, which was on a higher level than Levante UD.
“But his stay was often interrupted because of the immigration appointments he had here,” Julio Fernandez said.
Fernandez has a Spanish citizenship, which was one of the reasons his integration to the team was smooth.
“I’ve always admired his delivery and the passion he has for the game,” Julio Fernandez said. “In fact, in a review I got from the team, the coaches highlighted his delivery. They really loved that about him, because he was always passionate about being at practice and giving his all.”
His dad added the family is still contemplating the possibility of Fernandez returning to Spain.
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