He doesn’t drive.
He has chores and homework. And he is two years away from voting.
Roberto Hategan is all of 16 years old, and he looks the part with shy boyish grins and expressions. But unleash him on a soccer field and he performs beyond his years, a boy among men, closing fast on becoming an equal.
Hategan on Friday afternoon signed with Republic FC. The midfielder born in Chicago and raised in Roseville makes club history as its youngest player to sign and its first academy prospect to land a contract with the minor-league USL franchise.
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That’s pretty heady stuff for a lad who needed the signature of his parents, Laura and Luciano, to make the contract official and to spirit him off in the family car to the news conference.
Hategan is wise enough to understand that he is ready to contribute to a club committed to developing its academy players. This is no publicity stunt. His two-year contract with a club option for 2019 is a move designed to groom a prospect and to strengthen a team.
Hategan is short of years but not in confidence. In the first interview of his life, he scored. He has been a star on every team for which he has played, joking, “I came out of the womb with a soccer ball.”
Hategan is lithe and quick at 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds. He can read the field like a chess board, and he excelled for Republic FC’s U-16 and U-14 Academy teams. Hategan has played internationally with these teams with trips to Canada, Italy, Mexico, Romania and Spain, among many.
“Today’s a very big day, and I’m very happy, a dream come true, something I’ve worked for my entire life,” said Hategan, who scored 20 goals over the last two academy seasons. “I’m pretty young, but I’m ready.”
He speaks like a kid ready to grow up. Hategan is home schooled, and he unwinds from soccer by spending time with friends and playing video games.
“I’m still a kid,” he said with a laugh, joking that he needs “a chauffeur.” He added, “I make a lot of sacrifices. Soccer is very consuming but it’s worth it.
“I’m not surprised to sign. I am at their level (of teammates). I love the players and the coach (Paul Buckle). I believe in the coach and I think he believes in me.”
The feelings are mutual. Buckle has had Hategan practice with Republic FC for weeks, and the old coach can relate to big expectations heaped on such a young player.
“Sometimes, you have to look back at your own career to understand, and I had my professional debut when I was 16,” Buckle said. “This boy is ready. We’ll be careful with it as it’s a process, and I have no problem putting him in his first game (Saturday at home against San Antonio). His dad played professionally so he knows the pitfalls of the game. You’ll have big days and tough days, and that’s when you get tested as a professional: You cope with it and keep working.”
Luciano Hategan signed his first professional contract in Romania when he was 15. He still plays soccer a bit now when he isn’t marveling at the exploits of his son or tending to his flooring business tasks.
“I can see he’s way better than I was in my day,” Luciano said. “He’s left-footed, has great vision. Very talented.”
Does pop worry about the rigors of the sport taking a toll on his son?
“Not at all,” Luciano said. “The kid is pretty good. His confidence level is high. He can take things into his own hands. Opposing players will treat him nicely, or not so. They’ll always put pressure on him. You have to get used to it.
“He’s still a boy at home, a mama’s boy and a daddy’s boy, like any kid. But when it comes to soccer, he turns a switch and turns into a man.”
Hategan is another example of the soccer talent that sprouts from this region. There are seven players on Major League Soccer rosters with Sacramento roots.
“The first thing you look for in a young player is hunger, and Roberto has that,” Buckle said. “I liked Roberto the first moment I saw him. He jokes on the field, works hard. We tease him that if someone swears, he has to cover his ears – too young to hear that. But how he has performed in practice speaks volumes about him.
“He can see the field, and he’s clever. But it’s that hunger. It’s massive for him. Without that, you’re not going anywhere. Without hunger, I won’t play you. We want to be a top club. We want young, homegrown players. We want them hungry. This boy is.”