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One of the most promising young soccer players in the world is a Haitian-American Miami native who got his start in West Kendall.
Around FC Barcelona’s training grounds, where he has crossed paths with the likes of Messi and Neymar, he is known simply as Konrad. His full name is Konrad de la Fuente, and at 17 he is already a starting winger for Barcelona’s U19 team and the U.S. Under-20 national team, which plays Qatar on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in the U20 World Cup in Poland.
Although he is relatively unknown to most American soccer fans, de la Fuente has made headlines in Europe.
The British tabloid The Sun wrote of de la Fuente last September: “American Express — Forget Christian Pulisic, this Barcelona Starlet Could Be the Future of U.S. Soccer.”
Last October, de la Fuente was featured in The Guardian’s annual “Next Generation: 60 of the Best Young Talents in World Football.” He was the only American on the list.
How did this 5-7, 160-pound kid from Kendall make it to soccer’s world stage? It all began at Kendall SC, where de la Fuente and his younger brother, Richard, took up soccer while attending elementary school at The Heritage School, near Tamiami Airport. He also trained at Schulz Academy in Boca Raton, where U.S. star Jozy Altidore got his start.
When Konrad was 10 years old, his father, Conrad, took a job as a commercial attache with the Haitian Embassy in Madrid and the family relocated there.
“It was a big move to leave Miami, where I still have a lot of friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and I loved the Heat and LeBron James,” de la Fuente said Wednesday by phone from Poland. “But I knew they take soccer really seriously in Spain, so that was exciting. I spoke some Spanish from living in Miami, so that helped.”
Shortly after arriving in Madrid, he was spotted by a scout and invited to try out for Marcet Football’s Tecnofutbol club in Barcelona. He made the team, and moved to Barcelona with his mother, Jennifer, a self-employed accountant who graduated from Barry University, and his brother. A year later, he joined CF Damm, and was soon noticed by an FC Barcelona scout, who invited him to join their famed “La Masia” youth academy, where he has trained and moved up the ranks for five years.
“We picked him up when he was 12, and he is a very interesting player we hope to keep in the club as long as we can,” Denis Silva, Barca’s U19 coach, said by phone. “He has been performing very well, and is always in our first 11. He is the typical Barca wing, can play left or right, has speed and good crossing passes, and is very brave 1-on-1, trusts his skills. That is very difficult to find. He has the combination of the American work ethic and the Spanish soccer mentality.”
De la Fuente is just the second U.S. player invited to enroll at La Masia in the academy’s history. The other, Ben Lederman of Los Angeles, went there in 2011, but left three years later and now plays in Belgium.
“Training at Barcelona has helped me understand the game so much better,” de la Fuente said. “It is a lot more competitive than most places. The coaches know so much and have lots of experience.”
His mother says the family feels at home in Barcelona because of its similarities to Miami. “It also reminds me of what Haiti could be, with the mountain and beach right there,” Jennifer Desroches said by phone from Poland. “It’s all very exciting. This has been a dream of Konrad’s since he was very little. He always stood out among his peers and has been fully focused on soccer, not on the media and hype.”
Although he has lived in Spain almost half his life, and speaks Spanish, Creole and French, he still feels American and has not lost his American accent. He returns to Miami occasionally, the last time in 2017.
“I miss the nice beaches, the warm weather, and Haitian food,” he said. “The only time I get Haitian food in Spain is when my Mom cooks it. But this is where I want to be.”