There is a moment that many soccer players grow up dreaming about. It’s the moment when a player feels the ultimate pride for their culture: playing for their national team. At any age, it feels like an honor. For greats like Cristiano Ronaldo, this call came at age 15, and for Jozy Altidore, it came age 17. But for the University of Portland freshman Jacobo Reyes, it came at only 13 years old and then again at 15 years old.
Reyes spent time playing for two separate national team programs. He gained experience all over the world as a member of both the United States and Mexico’s national team programs, before his move to The Bluff.
Despite Reyes' time playing for two national teams — competing in countries as far as Qatar and India — he decided to join the University of Portland men's soccer team as a freshman forward. As he adjusts to life on The Bluff, he's been tasked with helping to replace the talent of recent graduates. Reyes has been successful throughout his first year, starting in all 16 matches and scoring three goals. With the hopes of playing professionally again, Reyes is drawing on his past experiences to bolster the men's soccer team
But before The Bluff, Reyes spent much of his childhood with various national teams. The Houston-born forward played for a U-13 camp for the United States National team, and then spent time at camps with the United States in both U-14 and U-17 cycles. But, during his time with the United States, he was called once again, but by a different country.
Reyes received word from the nation where he spent most of his childhood. He was offered a spot to come to a camp for the Mexican U-15 national team. He faced a tough decision in having to choose to represent either the United States or Mexico.
Reyes was born in Houston but had been raised in Monterey, Mexico. With Reyes spending most of his formative years in Mexico, where his family lives, the opportunity to play for Mexico was also an enticing option.
At the time, he thought about his family during this hard choice. His father is a Mexican native while his mother was born in the United States, like her son, Jacobo.
“My mom’s side told me to go with the United States,” Reyes said. “On the other side, my family in Mexico were telling me to go with Mexico.”
After weighing his options, Reyes decided to spend most of his U-15 years playing for Mexico.
However, during his time with Mexico, the door always stayed open for Reyes to make a switch. The switch happened when Reyes saw the United States’ coaches at the Dallas Cup, an annual international youth soccer tournament in Dallas, Texas, while Reyes was playing with his club team. When asked where he wanted to play for U-17s, he told them he would go wherever the opportunity is.
That’s when the United States gave Reyes his most exciting international opportunity. He was invited to play with the U-17 United States team in the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup. This offer would push the teenager to D.Y. Patil Sports Stadium in Maharashtra, India. Reyes’ World Cup dream came to life when he stepped onto the field in the 85th minute on Oct. 6, 2017, when he replaced budding United States star Timothy Weah in a match against India where the United States won 3-0.
Reyes would go on to make the U-20 World Cup United States provisional roster before not being cleared by his hometown club on Monterey to go play.
But despite Reyes’ international soccer career — which has taken him to different corners of the world — he now finds himself in the corner of Oregon and is ready to take on collegiate competition.
In 2018, Jacobo found himself making a different, but still challenging decision: figuring out where to play college soccer. But similar to the national teams, he had options. Toting offers from Clemson, Pittsburgh, and the 2018 National Champion, University of Maryland. But, Reyes decided to choose the University of Portland for one significant reason: academics.
“I am someone who likes to keep their academic career on a high level,” Reyes said. “Coming here (Portland) was because of soccer, too, but this is a great school”.
Despite being homesick as any freshman gets when moving to college, Reyes has found a new home in Portland and is embracing his time in a Pilot’s jersey. Reyes has been a starter for the men’s soccer team since the team’s first game against Colgate University and he has not looked back. He is one of only two Pilots to start all 13 games this season.
This step is another in a long journey for Jacobo, but at only 19 years old, he has found a sense of maturity that continues to propel his career forward.
For many players who have reached international success at a young age, success can get to their heads. But Jacobo’s coaches and teammates don’t see that in him.
“He is humble,” head coach Nick Carlin-Voigt said. “He has always been someone who wants to become the best player he can be. He is interested in surrounding himself with people who can help him do that and puts his head down, works hard and does not say much.”
However, even though Reyes is humble, his play is not. Possessing one of the best first touches a college player can have, Reyes’ play is a step above his opponents.
“The only thing he does over the top is when he plays, he plays with confidence,” Portland forward and Reyes’ teammate Alejandro Pereira said. “That is a really good thing. He knows he is a good player and he uses that to his advantage. He is not cocky at all, but plays with confidence.”
With his talent and past international experience, Reyes has taken on a large role for Portland as only a freshman. One of these responsibilities was to help this year’s team fill the role left by Benji Michel, who was the team's leading goal scorer. Michel, who is now playing for Orlando City in the MLS, had a large jersey to fill. But, Reyes, without even knowing it, picked the same number 19 jersey Michel wore at Portland and in the pros.
“I did not know it was his number,” Reyes said. “I was having dinner with Rey Ortiz who was on Facetime with Benji when Benji asked if I was the one wearing his shirt. I asked if he was 19, and when he said yes, I told him don’t worry I will take care of it.”
Though completely by accident Reyes had picked 19 because it was the number he wore while playing in India with the U-17 United States World Cup team. It brought even more attention to the gap that needed to be filled.
By the end of the season, Reyes has played in 17 games for the Pilots. In that time, he has scored three goals and has been a key cog in Portland’s offense.
Though Portland will not be the last stop on Reyes’ soccer career, he has a goal he’d like to reach while wearing purple and playing on Merlo Field.
“The NCAA tournament championship,” Reyes said. “We are talented enough to get that number one ranking.”
No matter what the next few years bring, the kid from Monterey, Mexico has aspirations of playing professional soccer. With his sights set on playing in La Liga in Spain or the Premier League in England, the quiet and humble Reyes has work to do.
Despite his commitment to soccer, Reyes still finds time to be a college student. The 19-year-old enjoys hanging out with friends and playing video games online with his friends in Houston, while happening to have incredible soccer skills.
Reyes will be one to watch during his time in Portland and beyond his collegiate career. He made the move from Texas and Mexico to Portland to play college soccer. Reyes’ next move could be much farther, and even overseas.
Jamison White is a sports reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.