It seems Omar Salgado's patience is finally being rewarded.
The 18-year-old forward is expected to make his second straight start Saturday when the Vancouver Whitecaps (3-2-2) visit the Columbus Crew (2-3-1).
"They're pretty good," said Vancouver coach Martin Rennie of Salgado's chances of starting again in Ohio. "He's trained well this week and if he continues to do that then he's always got a chance to play.
"As a young player, he'll probably be up and down and he'll be in and out of a little bit. But right now, he's doing well and I'm sure he's got a good chance."
The native of El Paso, Tex., had watched all games from the bench this Major League Soccer season before coming in as a substitute in the 79th minute against Kansas City on April 18. His left-footed cross set up Vancouver's lone goal by Sebastien Le Toux in a 3-1 loss.
The strong showing earned Salgado a start in last weekend's 1-0 win over Dallas. The increased playing time has coincided with a move from a traditional striker role to the left wing. During his time in youth and high school soccer, as well as with the American under-17 residency program, Salgado played mostly as a conventional centre forward.
"I like him out there and I think he's got more chance to play soon if he's playing out there, he's got the attributes to be very good in a wide area," said Rennie. "It was not really just (last) Saturday, he has impressed me over the last month.
"We've challenged him in a lot of different ways, given him a lot of hard work to do and he's come through it all with a good attitude and those are the things he has to do to become a professional player. You've got to go through all those things, trying to help him improve, help him get better and he's making progress."
Salgado did not advance much last season after being the first overall SuperDraft selection. The Whitecaps earned a FIFA exemption and clearance from the Canadian and U.S. soccer governing bodies that allowed him to play as a 17-year-old rookie. FIFA rules required foreign players to be 18 before suiting up in MLS but the Whitecaps successfully argued Salgado should be considered a domestic player because both the U.S. and Canada are on the same continent.
However, Salgado sat most of the time anyway. He started just five MLS games while playing in just 14 of 34 contests overall. His lone goal came last April in Columbus. He also saw action as a starter and substitute against the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, respectively, in Canadian championship play.
The reduced MLS playing time was in sharp contrast to previous years when the rising star was in high demand. As a 15-year-old, he left the U.S. to play for Mexican powerhouse Club Deportivo Guadalajara, more commonly known as Chivas — which also has an MLS team, USA Chivas, based in Los Angeles.
In 2009 and 2010, he played for the Mexican squad's reserve and under-17 teams but left the organization after accepting an offer to play for the American under-20 team. That decision put him in conflict with a Chivas policy of using only players eligible to play for Mexico. Until then, Salgado, who is of Mexican descent, had a choice of playing for either country.
He also spent five days training with the Whitecaps previously — in 2010 when they played in a lower-level league — while he was under contract to MLS through its Generation Adidas program. But he did not play on a scheduled three-month loan for the Caps because MLS did not complete the necessary paperwork in time.
Salgado has also trained with English Premier League sides Fulham and Everton during the past two years.
In the off-season, the lanky six-foot-four forward bulked up to 200 pounds from 170 and continued to train hard this season. He was kept busy by playing with Vancouver's reserve team, making the initial transition to the left wing spot.
The switch has given him the confidence to know he can start and he enjoys the opportunity to run at defenders with the ball — "which is what I'm good at," he says.
"(Playing striker) I would tend to lean to the left a little bit more, since I'm left-footed," Salgado said. "I'd be able to lean on that left foot and do the best I can."
He hopes to repay Rennie's confidence by helping generate more offence for a Vancouver side that has scored just six goals. A strong effort from Salgado will help make up for the possible absence of Brazilian striker Camilo, who continues to be bothered by a quadriceps injury that limited his practice time this week.
The team listed Camilo as questionable for the game and he may only sub in.
"It's just really (about) patience and waiting for your opportunity — and when you do get it, taking it," said Salgado.
NOTES: Columbus won both meetings with Vancouver last season . . . Whitecaps defender Alain Rochat, out with a left knee injury suffered in a collision with D.C. United goalkeeper Joe Willis on April 18, resumed practising this week. But he was left home from Columbus, giving Jordan Harvey the chance to take his place for the fifth straight game . . . Midfielder Michael Nanchoff, an Ohio native who starred at the University of Akron, made the trip and could see his first action, albeit as a reserve, since hurting his heel in a preseason tournament in Orlando. More than 500 of Nanchoff's friends, family and fans, some from as far away as Maryland, have purchased tickets for the game . . . Columbus forward Ben Speas and defender Rich Balchan are both out with sports hernias. Defenders Tommy Heineimann (knee) and Julius James (illness), and goalkeeper William Hesmer (hip) are also sidelined.