Real Salt Lake’s Guatemalan centre-half Elias Vasquez grew used to rejection in the early stages of his career, which he began as a versatile forward capable of both dropping into the hole and leading the line.

When he failed to make the first team at Aurora one season, his dejection was such that he decided to turn his back on football and devote his energies to becoming a car mechanic. 

Then, one day, he heard on the radio that domestic giants Comunicaciones were organising a trial for players his age. Initially reluctant to go along, but encouraged to do so by his brother, Vasquez duly presented himself along with 600 other youngsters all sharing the same dream.

When the hopeful trialists were asked if they were forwards, 400 of them raised their hands. Despite it being his position, Vasquez kept his arms by his side and also decided against raising them when the call for midfielders went out, one answered by 150 of his colleagues that day.

Taking up the story in an interview with FIFA.com, the centre-half said: “When I saw how few players were defenders, I realised that was where I had the best chance of getting a place.”

So what was the secret behind him ultimately earning a deal with one of the biggest clubs in Guatemala? “Putting myself in a defender’s shoes,” replied the 6’0-tall stopper.

“I used to be a forward and that helped me when it came to trying out as a central defender because I was always analysing defenders, the movements they made, their thought processes and the leadership they showed on the pitch. And it worked out well for me, thank God.”

He added: “Once they’d decided to put their faith in me, I began to grow as a professional. I began to feel comfortable in my new role as a central defender, which is the position I’ve played in ever since and where I feel most at home. To be honest, I don’t miss playing up front now or scoring goals.”

Adapting to circumstances
It did not take long for the newly converted defender to show his ability to read the game, adapt to situations and get the edge over opposing players. His promotion to international football soon followed. Appointed captain of Los Cremas for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, he made his full international debut that same year, and though still only 23, he now has more than 30 caps to his name. 

As focused as ever in spite of the success that has come his way, Vasquez is currently devoting his energies to Guatemala’s push for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and their upcoming third-round tie against Antigua and Barbuda.

“I think our minds are set on making it to the World Cup. It’s what everyone in Guatemala is dreaming about,” he said. “The country is going through a lot of political problems right now and the team wants to give the people something to smile about.  

“Qualifying matches are very tough. We don’t have an awful lot of information on them, but we’ve studied what material has come our way very closely. They’ve got some players who are playing second-tier football in Europe so we know that they’re going to make life difficult for us.” 

Brimming with confidence
Turning his attention to Guatemala’s preparations, the No3 had this to say: “We worry about ourselves and not about our rivals and I think we have a lot of ability. It’s 180 minutes and it’s going to be a very tough tie.”

As the Guatemala City-born player confirmed, Los Chapines will be drawing on their strengths on and off the pitch: “One of the biggest things we’ve got going for us is the unity in the team. We all know what we want to achieve, and though there’s been a bit of a transition, with lots of new faces coming in and people playing in their first qualifiers, there are still some big and experienced names around, like Marco Pappa and Carlos Ruiz.

That blend of youth and experience is an advantage for us, as is the fact that we’re all pulling together and that we want to succeed and to fight to the end to make our dream come true.”

Though the responsibility on Guatemala’s shoulders is great, Vasquez is determined that there should only be one outcome to the tie against the Caribbean islanders: “We know we have to get through, no matter what. If we get knocked out here, it’ll be a failure to all intents and purposes and a step back for Guatemalan football.” 

Voicing his side’s determination to succeed, the grounded Vasquez had this to say as he signed off: “It’s up to us to keep our World Cup dream alive. The objective is very clear and we’ll be giving our all on the pitch to make it a reality.

“We’re not underestimating our opponents. We know it will be tough and we know we have to be fully focused on the job. We’re going out there with the aim of succeeding and making it to the next round.”