Last Saturday, April 13, the websites and social media accounts of those who track young American players caught wind of a remarkable performance by one of Illinois’s own: 17-year-old Cade Hagan.
Hagan lit up the Spanish youth ranks at a local tournament in the north of the European country, scoring four goals and assisting in the fifth of five scored by Spanish second-division club Sporting Gijon’s under-19 team in their 5-0 victory last Saturday.
But Saturday’s performance does not simply represent another step towards the ultimate goal of professionalism. It is a performance six years in the making, the time since Hagan first caught the eye of Sporting’s brass.
“At a young age, they heard about me and saw me at tournaments in the U.S. and Europe. They contacted me and invited me for a trial when I was about 11 years old,” said Hagan.
“They offered me a contract but my family and I decided I was too young. My dad already was doing business in Spain so over the years, when he visited Spain, I came along with him.”
To even be on the radar of a Spanish club, Hagan had to cut his teeth in his home state at clubs such as Team Chicago, Chicago Magic and Sockers FC, a time he credits for allowing him to lay the foundation of his game through the freedom of creativity and self-expression on the pitch.
“At the Magic, I think it was great for me growing up because I grew up playing pickup soccer and Chicago Magic also gave me that freedom to be creative and express myself on the field, which was huge for my development,” said Hagan.
“Also, I think I learned to be a leader and to be able to take that role on a team. At Sockers, I learned a lot about team bonding and how it’s really important for all 11 players to work as one and build relationships to form a winning team. Also, I learned to constantly bring intensity and especially on defense even if I’m a forward, which is big. Chicago Sockers also gave me that freedom to be creative and express myself on the field as well and I think my play became more consistent.”
While traveling the state and the country jumping at any chance to continue his development, Hagan began traveling the world with the United States men’s national youth teams at the under-15 and under-17 levels. After participating in multiple camps and tournaments facing teams like Brazil, Netherlands and England, his sights are set on the top of the national team ladder.
“It’s always an amazing feeling to represent your country. It’s also awesome to be able to travel around the world and play different countries and gain experience,” said Hagan.
“I have not had any conversations about the senior national team, but I feel if I keep doing what I’m doing and show people the work that I’m putting in then everything will fall into place.”
The latest chapter of his career began on Feb. 10 when he officially announced his move to Sporting, a move in the works for nearly six years after considering offers from the Asturias club and Rayo Vallecano.
“This year, my dad decided he had to move out to Spain for two years for work and I came along with him and joined Sporting. The experience at Sporting has been phenomenal so far,” said Hagan.
“Their academy is well known for being one of the best in Spain. Soccer is a culture here and every kid dreams about playing professional since they were little. Everyone’s so passionate, so the training is constantly intense and you always need to be focused. Also, I really like (the) Spanish style and moving the ball around and being creative. I feel it’s a good spot for me and I’m very excited for the future.”
As for the future, Hagan’s and Sporting’s sights are set on the Spanish club’s senior squad. But Hagan, who maintains his college eligibility in the U.S., keeps every door that could help him reach his dreams of trophies and victories for club and country, open.
“The coaches here at Sporting told me when I joined that they aren’t going to invest time and money into me if they did not believe that I could play for the first team. Especially being foreign,” said Hagan.
“I’ve been scoring goals and proving myself in training and games. They always tell me to keep pushing and I feel that they believe in me. After next season with Sportings u19s I will be looking at any professional contracts that I am offered at Sporting or elsewhere and I will decide what is best for my future.”