Michael Salazar practiced little but perfected a lot in earning TheCup.us Lower Division Player of the Tournament honors after helping lead the Irvine (Calif.) amateur club PSA Elite (USASA) to its second consecutive appearance in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup fourth round.
The award is voted on by the staff at TheCup.us and a select of panel of members from the North American Soccer Reporters.
Salazar had three goals in four games, and finished tied for the tournament lead with four assists despite spending little time with the team aside the 90 minutes in between the lines.
“I thought PSA gave me a great opportunity to showcase my talent, and Jon (Spencer), Alex (Lujan) and all the guys that have been a part of it, they believe in me,” said Salazar, who narrowly edged Chula Vista FC’s Alberto Diaz for the award by two first-place votes. Also receiving strong consideration was Leo Fernandes of the New York Cosmos (NASL) and Alex Martinez of the Charlotte Independence (USL).
Salazar, already a full national team player for Belize after appearing in four games at the 2013 Gold Cup, is currently playing his senior season at UC Riverside and intends to enter the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
“He already had the experience of playing big matches in front of big crowds (but) we’ve been able to see him bloom into a top-level talent,” PSA Elite president Alex Lujan said. “I actually expected him to be our leading scorer but he also led us in assists, so to have a player who is so fast, strong, creative and quick was phenomenal to have.”
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound forward/winger had a goal and two assists as PSA Elite defeated Golden State Misioneros (PDL), 7-1, the first round. He then added another goal and an assist in a 2-1 upset win over the USL’s Orange County Blues in Round 2. He assisted on the game-winner in a 2-1 win over Ventura County Fusion (PDL) in the third round, which earned the club a date with defending MLS champion LA Galaxy.
“Mike brings energy to the field. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s aggressive (and) he has a really good soccer mentality,” said Jon Spencer, PSA Elite’s head coach and technical director. “He simply comes to play his best every game. He’s been very reliable in that regard.”
Salazar saved his best goal for last, scoring the opening goal against the Galaxy but PSA Elite went on to lose that game, 6-1.
Despite the loss, the performance earned him a trial with Galaxy.
“They wanted me to be successful and put me in the best position. I felt like in every game I contributed and I did the best I could,” Salazar said. “(The Galaxy game) was a huge moment for me. Growing up as a kid I always admired the Galaxy and to score against them was a dream for me, and I hope it’s the start of something special.”
Past TheCup.us Lower Division Player of the Tournament winners
2015: Michael Salazar, PSA Elite (USASA)
2014: Scott Goodwin, Carolina RailHawks (NASL)
2013: Ty Shipalane, Carolina RailHawks (NASL)
2012: Danny Barrera, Cal FC (USASA)