Welcome tries to make the grade with Revs
In late March, George Wilson Welcome flashed onto the scene with a dramatic deciding goal as Honduras won the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
Welcome's score in the 108th minute gave the Catrachos a 1-0 victory over the U.S. in the title game. But though the goal was impressive and Welcome himself physically striking, little was known about him before then and not much information has emerged since.
Welcome, a 6-foot-3 former basketball player, went to CD Motagua in Tegucigalpa soon after the qualifying tournament. But after training with Motagua for less than a month, Welcome remains contracted to his hometown club, Arsenal, and is now on trial with the New England Revolution.
"I went to Motagua with two other players, a portero [goalkeeper], Levon Smith, and a delantero [forward]," said Welcome, whose first language is English. "They are still there. I don't know what happened with me, but the president of Arsenal told me to come here."
Described as "an unpolished diamond," Welcome, 23, did not start playing soccer until he was 18. Before that, Welcome worked as a bricklayer and played "street basketball" in Roatan, the games often evolving into a soccer match. Welcome even played a year of baseball but could not get used to the ball itself, saying that it's "too small and too hard, it hurts when it hits you."
"One day, the president of Arsenal, Leland Woods, saw me playing for fun in a street game, and he said I should be playing soccer," said Welcome. "So I tried out for the team."
Roatan, a combination resort/fishing center on an island off the Honduran coast, has a strong Caribbean influence. The island is closer to Belize than to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. Coxen Hole, a village of 5,000 where Welcome lives, was named for an English pirate. There, English is the primary language.
When Alexis Mendoza, the Honduran U-23 coach, went to Roatan to confirm Welcome for the team, he had to speak slowly enough for Welcome to understand his Spanish.
Most of the Honduran U-23 players were with established clubs; Welcome was the exception. Welcome also stood apart because of the language and his small-town, island background. But after Welcome scored against the U.S., expectation levels increased.
"I didn't know what to expect against the U.S., but everything came out all right," Welcome said. "It was the first time I scored from long distance. I usually score with my head.
"I am looking forward to going to the Olympics. As a team, we think we can bring home a medal."
If Welcome does make an MLS team, he will miss several weeks of the season to play in the Olympics in August.
But Welcome is seeking more than glory and medals. Welcome was 4 years old when his father died, and he quit school after sixth grade to begin working. Until recently, he was bricklaying alongside his stepfather. Welcome has two young children, Omairan (3 years old) and Cristal (1½ years old).
Welcome follows the careers of Hondurans who are making an impact in leagues outside the country, most notably David Suazo, who plays for Inter in Milan. Welcome said he knows little of the MLS, though he has been advised by Amado Guevara, who is now with Toronto FC.
"My favorite team is Arsenal, because of Thierry Henry, even though he left [for Barcelona]," Welcome said. "Suazo is a very good player, and it took him many years of hard work to get to where he is now. But you never know what will happen."
Welcome has excelled in Honduras' Liga de Ascenso because of his power and ability to hold the ball, but he lacks technique, according to AS Deportiva.
"He has pace, he holds the ball up, he scored a great goal," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said of Welcome. "But it's too early to say more. Ask me again in a few days."
Revolution midfielder Mauricio Castro is helping Welcome make the transition.
"He is different than Suazo, not as fast as Suazo," Castro said of Welcome. "But he scores goals, and that is the most important thing for a forward. He has a good future if he applies himself and takes advantage of this opportunity. It's all about your mentality. You have to work hard every day, nothing more than that."
Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.