Sebastian Fernandez, who lives in Windermere and is a former Horizon High student, spent three months late last year playing at U-16 level with the Levante UD team in Valencia, Spain, known as Cadete A in Spain .
“The decision was spontaneous,” he said of playing abroad. “I have a feeling any kid in America would love the opportunity to go play in Europe. So for me it was a no-brainer; it was just about getting the option (to do it).”
Like so many, the chance to play abroad was a dream come true – and the next step in a journey that has spanned most of Fernandez’s life.
Venezuelan-born Fernandez has been playing football since he could walk. His mother, Dayana Figueroa, said when he was a year old she tried to give him books but he just put them aside in favor of his football.
He also loved watching his father play.
He started playing at Club Italo in Barquisimeto – Venezuela at the age of 3.
In 2014, his family moved to the United States. Fernandez was 8th.
“The first thing we did was search the area to find a football school to enroll him in,” Figueroa said.
He began playing with Orlando Star in Kissimmee and played there for about three years. He transferred to Orlando City, but because it was a very long round trip, his parents transferred him to All Star Soccer Academy in Dr. Phillips.
“We always saw that he was getting better and wanted to take another step,” said Figueroa.
In 2017, Fernandez began playing for Florida Rush Soccer, for whom he played until earning his spot at Levante UD.
In 2019 and 2020 he competed in the Disney ESPN Laliga.
THE WAY TO VALENCIA
Fernandez’s uncle, Andy Fernandez, lives in Valencia. He showed a highlight video of Fernandez playing soccer to his neighbor Daniel Infante, the agent who put in touch Fernandez’s father Julio and one of the team’s coaches, Alvaro Del Moral.
“They discussed whether I could go to court for two weeks,” Fernandez said. “And I went there between late August and early September.”
He received his offer to play three weeks after the tryouts. He was in one of his classes at Horizon High School when he got the call.
“I actually got a call from my uncle at school; I was in math,” Fernandez said. “He told me that they had offered me a two-week trial period. I ended up playing with them for three months.”
The program offered intensive training every day, with games taking place on weekends.
“We loved the idea of him learning from different coaches on a different team,” said Figueroa. “His father said his growth (during his time there) was incredible.”
During his time with the team, Fernandez trained twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon. The rest of the day was for the children to attend to their academics.
“When we spoke to the coaches, they said the kids had to stick to a specific schedule to do their homework,” Figueroa said. “They couldn’t leave the facilities, they had certain days they could go out and the trips had to be approved.”
During his application process, Fernandez applied for financial aid. The percentage of scholarship he would be offered depended solely on his attempts. He received a scholarship for 75% of the tuition.
During his stay in Valencia, Fernandez stayed at Global Football Total, the official center of the Global Levante project. He said the competition made him a better player and the memories would last a lifetime.
“I became really good friends with the boy who played my position,” he said. “But in the beginning there was a lot of competition because it was about who gets the starting role in the games and the drills and everything. But it was always healthy; it was never bad.”
Parallel to his development as a footballer at Valencia, Fernandez was also in the process of becoming a US citizen. On 10 November he had to return to Windermere to attend his biometric fingerprinting appointment on 12 November. On November 16 he returned to Valencia and stayed until December 23.
And on January 31, he became a naturalized US citizen
Currently, Fernandez’s days are filled with schoolwork and twice-daily training. He is still in touch with Del Moral and Levante UD and hopes to return to Spain after graduation to play professionally in the third or fourth tier.
“These are underrated leagues here in America,” he said. “But over there it’s not that easy, but definitely not super hard to get in. And once you’re there, you can make your way into the big leagues.”
Fernandez comes from a long line of outstanding footballers. Julio Fernandez, Sebastian’s father, and his uncle Andy Fernandez played national level football in Venezuela. Currently, Julio Fernandez continues to play soccer in the Central Florida Soccer League in the Premier League.
“My pride was over me,” said Julio Fernandez. “They started calling him up for the first team and then he had to come back.”
He added that during Fernandez’s time at Global Football Total, the coaches wanted him to train with the Patacona team, which was at a higher level than Levante UD.
“But his stay was often interrupted because of the immigration appointments he had here,” said Julio Fernandez.
Fernandez has Spanish citizenship which was one of the reasons his integration into the team went smoothly.
“I’ve always admired his performance and his passion for the game,” said Julio Fernandez. “In fact, in a review I received from the team, the coaches highlighted his performance. That’s what they really loved about him because he was always passionate about training and he gave it his all.”
His father added the family is still considering the possibility of Fernandez returning to Spain.
The Observer has invested in new technology so you can enjoy a more personalized online experience. By creating a user profile OrangeObserver.comyou can manage settings, customize content, enter contests and more while continuing to enjoy all the local news that interests you — .