The love of soccer has taken Fresno Fuego goalkeeper Agustín Rey to the University of Wisconsin, a prestigious soccer academy and to the dangerous streets of México where emboldened criminals fight gun wars with police.
Rey, 24, is the starting goalie for the Premier Development League Fresno Fuego Soccer Club. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound goalie has helped the Fuego to a 10-2 record thus far and atop the nine-team Southwest Division. The Fuego has three league matches remaining before the playoffs start.
The Las Cruces, New México native was noticed during his sophomore season at Mayfield High School when he received an invitation from a scout from México First Division club Santos Laguna.
If he accepted the invite, he would train with a junior development squad in México. Many of México’s soccer clubs search for talented young prospects in-and-out of the country.
It didn’t take much for the Rey family to decide: Agustín and his father, Agustín Sr., a construction worker from Chihuahua, México, soon traveled to Torreón, México. Agustín’s mother, Magdalena, is from Hollister.
His first stint lasted just under two weeks, and the Rey family was given the proverbial ‘We’ll call you,’ which yielded nothing. He wondered if he was good enough.
Nearly a year later, Rey was playing a tournament near his hometown when the father of former Santos player Edgar Castillo (also a Las Cruces native) noticed his talent and soon spoke with Agustín Sr.
The scout, who was searching for young prospects for México’s national team, called Santos Laguna. Agustín, now a junior at Mayfield had earned two all-district school honors, was told he was expected back in Torreón that same weekend.
“Edgar Castillo: His dad actually came out. He said this guy’s got potential,” said Agustín, the older of two boys.
“So my family was like let’s give it shot. There were a lot of goalkeepers there, like 30. I made the top five.”
Agustín’s brother, Mark Rey, a talented midfielder, competed for Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona then at Eastern New México University in Portalas, New México.
They wanted me to stay for six months. All of México wasn’t safe, but especially this area.
Agustín Rey, Fresno Fuego goalie
Agustín’s agility and fitness impressed coaches enough to warrant an extended invitation to remain in Torreón, but the country’s violence was too much and his dream was again halted.
“They wanted me to stay for six months. All of México wasn’t safe, but especially this area,” said Agustín, “We were driving on the freeway and somebody stopped us and said ‘Don’t go over there right now. There’s a gun war with police.’ And there was a bar near our hotel that got shot up. I wouldn’t say our experience was the best.”
“We never went back to México, but Santos wanted him. They asked me to leave him six months there. I wanted him there, but I couldn’t leave him because of the violence,” his father said in Spanish.
“It was the violence, and I couldn’t risk losing any scholarships he could get for college.”
Father and son returned to the U.S., but Agustín couldn’t help but think that he passed up an excellent opportunity.
Agustín spent his senior season of high school getting educated at the prestigious Real Salt Lake Developmental Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona. The resort-like academy is known nationwide for offering academic tutors and developing soccer players. Many have moved on to professional ranks and to first division contracts.
“I’ve never had a goalie coach; never really had goal keeper training. It was just training everyday. It’s basically soccer in the morning then you go to school; then back with the team. You live on the resort, Grande Sports World, they sponsor the facilities,” said Agustín.
Mexican goalkeeper Eduardo ‘Lalo’ Fernández also graduated from the program and is on the USL-based league Monarchs.
Agustín graduated in 2014 from nearby Casa Grande Union High School, where numerous academy graduates attend.
He opted for the best scholarship available to compete in college. After playing three matches in 2014, he became the starting goalie for the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team, where he played a total of three seasons. In 2015, his final season, he started in all 18 matches. He averaged 1.07 in goals-against average. He made 52 saves and guarded the goal for three shut-out victories.
He graduated with a degree in sociology. He’s now a full-time assistant coach at Wisconsin training goalkeepers, but continues to search for a professional contract.
“Nothing has hit me like soccer,” he said.
Until a contract emerges, Agustín said he’ll continue guarding the Fuego box. He’s looking at the USL-Pro Division team Sacramento Republic and the upcoming USL expansion team in Fresno next year.
More than 50 Fuego players have moved to sign pro contracts since the team’s 2003 inception.
“We love that guy. He’s been massive for us. Without him, I think we’d be struggling right now because he’s made some key saves,” said striker José Cuevas, a 9-season player with the Fuego.
“We have a special team. We are very solid in the back; very effective in the attack. When we play our game; our style, that’s when we get our results. As long as we keep our rhythm and doing what we know. We have a chance of going a lot further this year,” said Agustín.
Agustín Rey in the Fuego box
Goals-against average: 0.77
Saves percentage: .814
Matches played: 11
Goals allowed: 8