Like many other Indiana University students, Eriq Zavaleta returned to Bloomington this week. Only he isn’t staying.
The standout sophomore forward leaves Thursday for the Major League Soccer (MLS) Combine, which begins Friday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a result of signing a Generation Adidas contract this weekend to enter the MLS Draft and forgo his final two years of college eligibility.
“Ever since I can remember, all I wanted to do is play soccer for a living,” Zavaleta said Sunday afternoon.
Part of that is the result of having a father and an uncle who did likewise. Carlos Zavaleta, a native of El Salvador, played collegiately at UCLA, then enjoyed a professional career on the West Coast, while uncle Greg Vanney was also a UCLA standout before going on to play for the United States national team and the MLS’ Los Angeles Galaxy.
“It’s been a dream of mine since my dad played professionally and my uncle played professionally,” the Westfield native said. “It was something expected of me and something I wanted to do.”
Now he has the chance to see that dream come true in his backyard, with the MLS Draft set to take place on Jan. 17 in Indianapolis. It will be the capper on a whirlwind six weeks for Zavaleta, who is just a month removed from helping Indiana win the national title.
“This last month has been an absolute dream to me, almost every dream I’ve ever wanted in the soccer world has been reached,” Zavaleta said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, and it’s such a grateful feeling to know what you can accomplish. I’ve accomplished a lot in the past month, and there is so much more to be accomplished.”
Zavaleta was named a third team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year en route to posting 18 goals and four assists in his second and final season with the Hoosiers. But he said he didn’t really think much about his future until the season was over.
“Rumors were thrown around throughout the season, but it was something I tried to push aside and stay focused,” Zavaleta said. “Ultimately, winning a national championship was a goal that I had. I came to indiana initially to win a national championship, and once that was in sight, it’s all I could focus on. The fact we were able to accomplish that goal really made this decision to leave school a little easier.”
Even if it meant walking away from more individual honors next season.
“Ultimately, are there individual accolades i would’ve liked to win? Yes, but I came not to win accolades but to win a national championship,” he said.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered. Not just where Zavaleta will wind up, but what position he will play once there. Long projected to be a defender at the professional level, Zavaleta’s offensive success at IU could result in a team giving him a look up top. But he’s ready for any challenge.
“I’m ready to go to the combine and show I can play both positions,” Zavaleta said. “Some teams want me as a defender, some might want me as a forward, and some just want to bring me in to camp and see what I can do. It’s a good problem to have. A lot of teams need both positions. I’m just excited to go somewhere.”
Just not back to school.
Bruin called up
One former Hoosier who walked in Zavaleta’s shoes just two years ago, took another step forward on Sunday. Will Bruin was one of 25 players called into January camp by U.S. Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The team will train together in Carson, Calif., until Jan. 27 before departing for Houston, where Bruin plays for the MLS’ Dynamo, to prepare for a Jan. 29 match against Canada.
“We are very proud and excited for Will,” Indiana coach Todd Yeagley said in a release. “He continues to demonstrate through his play in Major League Soccer that he is one of our premier young players in the U.S. It’s a wonderful honor for Will.”