CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (KSAZ) - Casa Grande in Arizona's Pinal County and Barcelona in Spain's Catalonia region are separated by a continent and an ocean. Culturally, the two places are very different, but they actually have a close connection.
Casa Grande is the home of the FC Barcelona soccer club's American youth academy, and one of the most famous soccer clubs in Europe and the world is looking for American talent, right in our own back yard.
This legendary soccer club has teamed up with Grande Sports Academy to create Barça Academy Arizona, FC Barcelona's only residential soccer academy in the U.S.
Barcelona is about 5,825 miles (9374.43 kilometers) away from Casa Grande. Despite the enormous distance, Barça believes its next great player may be from the United States.
"Hopefully, that is the end goal," said Miha Kline, Director of Recruiting and Soccer Operations for Barça Academy Arizona. "Realistically, we are leaving no stone unturned. Hopefully in next five years, we will have the first player playing on the first team of FC Barcelona."
This summer, 1,400 players from 13 to 17 years of age are trying out for 100 positions. Henry Tapper from Minnetonka, Minnesota said everything about Barça Academy is world-class.
"The coaching here is phenomenal," said Tapper. "They offer the best facilities, the best fields, the best programs."
Barça Academy sits on the site of the old spring training home of the San Francisco Giants back in the 1960s and 70s. There's an iconic mid-century-modern hotel, dorms for the players. A state-of-the-art indoor training facility.
In addition, there's a high school preparatory academy on site run by Arizona State University. That means players get out with a high school degree. So far, every graduate has received either a college soccer scholarship or a pro soccer contract.
"It is very tough. There are very good players out there, skilled on and off the field. Character-wise, very good people and players," said Christian Ortiz of Yuma.
Barça Academy's Sean McCafferty fully expects some of these players to become big stars on clubs in Europe, America, and perhaps on the U.S. men's national team.
"For us, we know there is a lot of talent here. Christian Pulisic [of] Borussia Dortmund [football club], a real inspiration," said McCafferty. "For a lot of clubs to understand the market and know there is top talent that can play at the Champions League level, so you will see Barça and other clubs trying to get into the American market. It is such a big country, so much diversity, so it is only a matter of time until training environments and the big clubs get it right."
It's not just boys, as FC Barcelona is also looking at the possibility of creating a girl's academy in Casa Grande.