Soccer was going to be Omar Salgado’s life.

It was ingrained in him early on.

“Omar didn’t have a chance,” said his father, Eduardo Salgado, whose own dream was to make it in the pros. “I’m a frustrated soccer player. So since Omar was born, he had no option but to play soccer. Poor guy. He never had any other kind of toys besides a soccer ball.”

A borderland star “futbolero,” Omar was a hot recruit from the age of 14, playing with the Chivas of Guadalajara before making his Major League Soccer debut with Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2011. He was the first player to sign with the El Paso Locomotive FC in its inaugural 2018 season under the United Soccer League.

But Omar had a backup plan, a backup dream: Law school.

After a successful soccer career, several injuries and much reflection, Omar, now 28, left the sport and is now enrolled in Boston College Law School. Omar expects to graduate in spring 2023. He aspires to practice corporate or sports entertainment law — and possibly run for a political office.

First came soccer

But first came soccer. And boy did he score big in it.

“I just knew he was going to be a good player,” Eduardo said about his son. After all, Eduardo had been playing and coaching soccer for years — a lifelong aficionado who just felt it in his heart that he had something unique in Omar.

So it was decided. Soccer was going to be it for both the father and son. Omar would play on the field with his parents supporting him — and his father living vicariously through him.

Omar began playing soccer when he was 3 years old. He played in his first national tournament at 5. He trained and played with Texas Fire Soccer Club of El Paso, now FC-Dallas El Paso, from 2004-2008.

“A kid with his speed and his strength, it was just amazing to see him every time he would get the ball,” said Mike Lopez of El Paso, a youth director and scout with FC Dallas. Lopez describes Omar as a very talented player and mature for his age.

When Omar was set to start school at Cathedral High School at 14, a scout from the U.S. national team saw him play with Texas Fire.

“He invited me to Bradenton (Preparatory Academy) to play for the U-17 national team and they moved every player to Florida. So, I moved to Florida,” recalled Omar, who dropped out of Cathedral to pursue his soccer dream.

Eduardo Salgado (right), Mike Lopez (center) and Omar Salgado at Southwest University Park in May 2022. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lopez)

“And that’s when he left home,” his father Eduardo said. “He never came back to us. He was there (Bradenton) for like four months and that’s when the U.S. soccer team told me that they were (moving him) over to Guadalajara.”

Looking back, Eduardo said, it was a wild decision.

“I thought he was old enough to be by himself,” he said. “But now that I think about it, I was crazy. He was always a good kid and he knew how to take care of himself. Every morning that he would go to school he had to cross a street, Vallarta Street — and it had a lot of traffic. So, every morning he would call me at 6:30 in the morning, ‘Dad I’m going to cross the street.’ So he would cross the street and then let us know when he crossed the other side.”

Omar played for Chivas for 18 months. Then in 2011, he became the No. 1 draft choice in Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft — one of the most prestigious honors any athlete, father or son could ever dream — landing a position with Vancouver.

The rest was supposed to be history. But it wasn’t — not quite.

In 2012 and again in 2013, Omar injured his foot — missing the entire MLS season and causing him to reevaluate his goals in life and think beyond the soccer field. He began to focus on new goals, new aspirations.

“My parents had always pushed me to finish school,” Omar said. “And when I was 18, I had my first big injury so that helped put everything into perspective. At that point, I had broken my foot five times and I thought, ‘Well, maybe my parents were right. Maybe I should finish school.”

Prior to his injury, Omar had done his school work online. But the long recovery period allowed him to focus on obtaining his GED at El Paso Community College.

From Vancouver he was traded to New York City FC then the Tigres UNLV of Liga MX. He signed with the Locomotive in June 2018.

El Paso Locomotive FC forward Omar Salgado playing at Southwest University Park in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Omar Salgado)

“To get (Omar) to play for his hometown was exciting,” said former Locomotive coach Mark Lowry, who was the second person signed to the team after Omar. “He was happy to be back home in front of his family and friends. And we were really happy to bring him back and help start the club off right.”

By September 2020, however, Omar had torn his ACL twice. His contract with the Locomotive ended two months later.

The next goal

As luck would have it, because he had previously signed a sponsorship with Adidas, the company provided him with a grant that would pay for his higher education for 10 years.

With that funding, Omar took online classes and completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Northeastern University in Boston, where he studied political science and international relations. He enrolled in law school at Boston College in 2020, taking classes online at the peak of the pandemic.

Last year, he landed a summer associate job with the Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, which has 23 offices representing Fortune 500 companies and major multinational corporations.

During this time, he worked to rehabilitate his knee — and considered whether he would return to soccer.

“And it turned out that my knee wasn’t healing as well as I thought it would,” Omar said. “The doctor felt like I would be risking a lot if I returned and would probably very likely re-tear my ACL.”

Despite the bad news, his sports career is not over. It’s just on a different path.

Aside from the sponsorship with Adidas, he landed a job working for its legal team for six months in Portland, Oregon. That’s where the idea of pursuing sports entertainment law arose.

But the idea of campaigning for political office was fueled when he assisted with the Biden campaign in 2020, when he worked alongside Joe Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and Cristóbal Alex, an El Pasoan who went on to be deputy Cabinet secretary when Biden was elected.

“I never really experienced a full campaign,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and it feels like you can really make a difference. So, at some point throughout my legal career I would like to try and help out, whether it’s El Paso or somewhere else in the states, I would like to find a path into politics.”

A dangerous mental game

Omar, who played forward, is described as a “dangerous striker” in his Major League Soccer profile.

“You know, for someone so big he was so fast that he could run past people with the ball. So it was really good to use him out there,” said Lowry, who left El Paso last year and is now the head coach for the Indy Eleven USL team.

Omar Salgado in 2019 at Southwest University Park. (Photo courtesy of Omar Salgado)

But Lowry noted that players like Omar who are drafted into the MLS at a young age face a lot of pressure.

“At 16-17, when you are drafted into MLS at such a young age, that can create a lot of mental obstacles for anybody you see in sports — or all walks of life,” Lowry said. “There’s a lot of pressure on a young player. And I think Omar carried that pressure with him a lot, you know, to be this superstar. I wanted him to just play and have fun and enjoy soccer for as long as he could. That was the goal.”

Lowry wanted to help Omar manage those stressors in life.

“My thing was, ‘Whatever you do in life, Omar, you have to face different kinds of pressures,’” he said. “At the time he wanted to be a lawyer and working on a couple of degrees. So we wanted to manage his pressures then so he could continue to be successful.”

Eduardo said that his son will be as dominant as a lawyer as he was a soccer player.

He added that Omar’s top achievement as an athlete was putting the spotlight on El Paso’s soccer talent.

“The best thing that Omar has accomplished is that he opened the eyes of the soccer people to El Paso,” he said. “There are a lot of kids in El Paso that played in the early 2000s that are now professional players. And it’s thanks to these kids from El Paso that put El Paso on the soccer map.”

The best advice Eduardo says he can give parents is to not push their kids so much and allow them to have fun in whatever sport or interest they choose. He recalled one night when he and Omar were practicing in the backyard. Eduardo never let Omar win just for the sake of winning, so they stayed outside playing until 1 a.m.

“These are things I wish I could have known back then. Do not pressure your kid too much to be the best,” he said. “Let them enjoy what they are doing in any sport — no matter what sport they are playing. Encourage them to play any sport and try to do it the best they can.”

Omar Salgado expects to graduate from Boston College Law School in 2023. (Photo courtesy Omar Salgado)

Eduardo said he has created a lot of great memories with his son, both on and off the field.

Recently, they traveled to Europe where they watched soccer matches for three days straight: France, Amsterdam (to watch the AFC Ajax team) and Krakow, Poland.

Their next plan is to go to Spain to watch Real Madrid.

“Soccer is my life,” Eduardo said. “And it’s become the same thing for Omar, I guess.”

Omar said if he had one piece of advice for aspiring athletes, no matter the sport, it is to be patient.

“In the end, everything will figure itself out,” he said. “I’ve always been on the edge of almost retirement or changing new teams or bouncing from one school to the next. And it’s hard to wait and know what your future looks like. But in the end it all ends up kind of figuring itself out.”

Alex Hinojosa

Alex Hinojosa is an El Paso freelance journalist and a mass communications instructor at El Paso Community College.

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