When he takes the field at Austin-Tindall Park for the fourth annual National Premier Soccer League Showcase Jan. 13, Hugo Gutierrez probably won’t be anxious or nervous.
That’s because he has been there and done it, participating in his third combine in a little more than a month.
That’s right, his third.
Gutierrez’s busy schedule has included:
* A Dec. 10 tryout with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer.
* A Dec. 28 trial with Deportivo Teti Tepic of the Mexican Second Division.
* And now a Jan. 13-15 opportunity at the NPSL Showcase in Kissimmee, Fla.
The Riverside Coras defender has been in no rush to make a decision. He is just weighing his options as he prepares to demonstrate his talents again.
“I feel like I’m more experienced,” he said. “Hopefully, I grab somebody’s attention and go from there.”
Gutierrez had two big backers.
“I am pretty picky when it comes to a complete player,” Coras president Rob Lopez said. “I’m excited for what’s ahead in Hugo’s soccer career.”
“Hugo is one of the most consistent players I have coached, so I expect him to do well,” California Baptist coach Coe Michaelson said. “But, Hugo is also a guy who does all of the little things and I don’t believe that a one or two day combine can give coaches a full appreciation of what he really brings to the table. He is absolutely a guy who can play at the next level and whoever gets him will be lucky to have him.”
The soft-spoken Gutierrez began his unique tryout/combine sojourn in early December with the Earthquakes. He impressed team officials enough that he was invited back for a second trial.
However, finances were a bit tight and he could not travel from southern California to San Jose up north at the time. But he wasn’t about to close the door as another one opened.
While on vacation with his family in Guadalajara, Gutierrez had a one-day trial with Deportivo Teti Tepic late last month. The 130-mile trip takes almost three hours.
“It was kind of complicated,” he said. “I had to wake up around 4 a.m. just to get to the training session. It was a little difficult. I had told the coach about my situation. I wasn’t staying close by. It was a little hard for me to make it.”
Despite that obstacle, Gutierrez impressed that the team was interested in a second look. But he could not return the next day.
“I personally received a text message from the owner of the team. ‘Hey, we really liked that kid. What’s the plans,’ ” Lopez said. “I said he was invited to go to the NPSL Showcase and he will he viewed by 30-something scouts, executives, GMs or coaches from pro teams in the U.S. He said, ‘I understand.’
“Hugo is eager to find a pro team here in the U.S.. He personally told me he didn’t like the chemistry or environment in Mexico. He’s of Mexican descent but born and raised here. He would rather do his soccer here in the U.S.”
The 5-foot-9, 150-lb. Gutierrez started playing organized soccer at the age of eight for a southern California club called Barcelona. He moved around to several teams and club, played with the Chivas USA Academy before joining the LA Galaxy Academy.
“I fell in love with soccer early on,” he said. “I just picked up a ball and told my dad, this is what I want to do. I fell in love with it and still am in love with it.”
Not surprisingly, Gutierrez joined the Coras after — you guessed it — a tryout with the NPSL club midway through the 2017 season.
Lopez quickly realized the team had acquired a special player.
“I was impressed by his footwork, his leadership and his demeanor,” he said. “He’s positive, very coachable and very nice to his teammates. He immediately bonded with our players and created a nice cohesiveness.
“I was very impressed with this all-complete player. It’s not often that I come across with a player who grabs my attention completely. This kid just did that. He was very well mannered, groomed, polite off the pitch, very thankful for everything that has been offered to him.”
They weren’t disappointed.
Gutierrez started out at left back.
“He immediately just owned the spot,” Lopez said. “He’s amazing with the ball, left and right. His soccer IQ is just really well-developed. Never cracked under pressure.”
For the final three games of the season, Gutierrez was deployed as a holding midfielder the final three games.
“His ball distribution was just beautiful, quick ball movement,” Lopez said. “We’re very impressed with his vision. There was times, ‘Where the heck is he passing the ball to’ and there goes the runner. Just a really enjoyable kid and very fun to watch.”
As it turned out, Gutierrez’s best performance came when he was a central mid in a playoff game against Orange County FC.
“His ability to step up and read the game and take full control was just amazing,” Lopez said. “This is a position where it takes time for the player to develop trust from our coaching staff and therefore, he didn’t start at this position earlier on in the season. I was very impressed. At that point. this kid could go places.”
Gutierrez also is coming off a successful NCAA Division II career with California Baptist in Riverside, Calif.
In 2016, he was named voted team MVP almost unanimously.
“He has the respect of all of the guys,” Michaelson said. “Regardless of that peer recognition, while he’s very quiet, he leads by example. The guys know that he will put everything into the game and he never, ever gets out-worked. His form of quiet leadership was invaluable.”
The Lancers got a sneak preview of what was going to come when they defeated the University of California-Riverside, a Division I team, 7-0, in a preseason game.
That’s right, 7-0.
“From there we knew we were going to do something great,” Gutierrez said.
“Our team was phenomenal. Our level was high. If we played any Division I team, I think we’d put up a good match.”
The season fell into place quickly. The Lancers compiled a 17-1-2 record.
“We were all on the same page,” said Gutierrez, who finished with three goals and 10 assists. “We worked hard for each other. If somebody lost the ball, someone behind you would be there trying to win it back. That’s where our strength came from.”
California Baptist’s lone loss came against Cal Poly Pomona, 1-0, in the Division II West Region final. The Lancers dominated the match, outshooting their foes, 26-6, while taking more corner kicks, 10-5.
Now, it’s onto Gutierrez’s next challenge — the NPSL Showcase.
He said that he wants to play professionally “more than anything. Just from all the hard work that I’ve put in. I just don’t want to stop.”
If the Earthquakes or NPSL Showcase don’t work out, Gutierrez will have something to fall back on. He is a criminal justice major in college and would like to be a detective.
“I think just doing the research would be interesting, seeing what you can learn and seeing how people work,” he said.
Lopez, however, felt that Gutierrez could put any other plans on the back-burner, at least for a while.
“I am very confident he’s going to do well,” he said. “I’m just super excited for Hugo because I think he’s going to definitely have conversations.”
Ditto for Michaelson.
“If Hugo doesn’t get an opportunity to play professionally then in my opinion, there are a lot of guys not doing their job, not turning over every stone,” he said. “He’s versatile and can play anywhere in the midfield or as a fullback. He has a pro engine and the technique and intelligence to play at the next level. As long as he perseveres in pursuing his opportunities, he will find a home. At that stage I know his work ethic will help him develop and who knows how high he can go.”