Things are happening quickly for Nicholas Gaitan, a 16-year-old central midfielder from Long Island. Nine months after arriving in Buenos Aires to join the Argentinos Juniors youth system, he was called into the reserve squad last week.
And now his father, Adrian, is getting word that Boca Juniors has taken interest and might be trying to acquire him. He’s flying to Argentina on Monday to join his son and “try to make sense of it.”
“It’s a whirlwind right now,” said Adrian, technical director for Albertson Soccer Club, which is among 78 programs in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. “I don’t think he’d be inclined to go because he’s comfortable with Argentinos Juniors, but we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen.”
Nicholas has played for the U.S. under-14, under-15 and under-16 teams. He trained at Sporting Lisbon, Liverpool and Newcastle last year before accepting an offer from Argentinos Juniors in the fall. He was a candidate for U.S. under-17 residency in Bradenton, Fla., but would’ve been the youngest in the player pool and decided to stay in Argentina.
He has a one-year deal but is not considered a professional, which allows him to maintain amateur status in case he decides to return for college. (His father starred at American University in Washington in the mid-1980s.) In Buenos Aires, Nicholas lives in a supervised home with other prospects, attends an American school, and continues fine-tuning Spanish skills learned in New York.
If he were to move to Boca Juniors, his status as a prospect probably wouldn’t change, but he would show his skills at a higher-profile club.
Like his parents, he holds an Argentine passport. His father is a native New Yorker but also owns a home in Buenos Aires. Because of Adrian’s Portuguese family ties, Nicholas could’ve latched on with a European club, though that would’ve required a parent to move there with him because he’s under 18.
So he ended up in Argentina, close to his favorite club, Boca Juniors. Although the Gaitan family is aligned with River Plate, Nicholas grew up idolizing Juan Roman Riquelme, who rose through the Argentinos Juniors youth system before spending most of his accomplished career with Boca. Diego Maradona and Fernando Redondo also launched their careers at Argentinos Juniors.
Renato Corsi was the first of only a few American-born players known to have played in Argentina’s first division. He began with Argentinos Juniors in 1983 and later moved to four other clubs.
“We’re River Plate, going way back. This is very difficult for the family,” Adrian said, laughing. “If we could ban him from family gatherings, we would.”
In other news involving Americans in South America, Diego Restrepo is in line to become the No. 1 goalkeeper at America de Cali in Colombia. The club could acquire a more experienced keeper, but at the moment, Restrepo is the top choice. American Kevin Piedrahita (U.S. under-20s) is No. 2.
Restrepo, 23, anchored the University of Virginia’s NCAA championship team in 2009 and completed his college career last fall but wasn’t invited to the MLS scouting combine. He signed with America de Cali in January and appeared in cup matches.
The American duo moved up on the depth chart after the club transferred starter Leandro Castellanos to rival Deportivo Cali and loaned Juan Carlos Mosquera to Huila. Colombia’s season resumes Aug. 23.