United States international Konrad de la Fuente says it’s been difficult to bounce between Barcelona‘s first team and “B team” this season as he finally starts to feel the benefits of playing regularly.
De la Fuente, 19, is habitually involved with Ronald Koeman’s first team. He trains with them on a daily basis, made his debut in the Champions League in November and has been an unused substitute in 17 of Barca’s 34 La Liga games.
His involvement with the senior side meant that he was in and out of the “B team” earlier in the campaign, making just seven appearances for the third division side before Christmas.
However, a change of strategy has seen him start to play for the “B team” every week, allowing him to run into form. In his last three matches, he’s scored four times, helping the Garcia Pimienta’s side book their place in the playoffs for promotion to the second tier of Spanish football.
“Honestly, it’s not really easy to be in this position because as a soccer player you always want to be playing,” De la Fuente said in a news conference with American media on Wednesday.
“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t playing much with either team because I was travelling with the first team and then I would miss a ‘B team’ game and then two weeks later I would play with the ‘B team.’
“It was pretty difficult to get into a rhythm of games and minutes, but now I have been playing regularly for a good 10, 11 weeks and I feel really good.
“I think it was the club’s decision [to spend more time with the ‘B team.’] They really thought it was best for my progression for me to play every week with the ‘B team’ but train with the first team every day. I think it was the correct decision because I feel a lot better right now.”
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The Miami-native, who joined Barca’s La Masia academy in 2013 when he was 12, says being around Lionel Messi and the other first-team players has helped him improve.
“It’s incredible being with the first team, training with them every day, learning from the best players in the world, especially Messi, who’s one of my idols,” De la Fuente added.
“You realise that the intensity of the first division is a lot higher than what I am used to, because last year I was playing with the U19s. And defensively you have to work harder, they’re the main differences.
“But I have been moving a lot better without the ball, I analyse my matches every week and that’s one of the reasons why I feel I have improved. I just think I have to work hard in training, play well with the minutes I get for the first team or the ‘B team,’ just do my best, and eventually I will probably get another opportunity to play again.”
Moving forward, Barca have a dilemma on their hands with the young forward. Club sources acknowledge he’s outgrown the third division, but there’s no guarantee of minutes with the first team next season.
“I honestly haven’t thought about [next year],” he continued. “I am just focused on finishing the season as best as I can with the B team or the first team, whoever needs me, and in the summer we will see.”
Success at Barca is likely to come hand-in-hand with a place on the USMNT. He made his debut for Gregg Berhalter’s side last November in a friendly against Wales but hasn’t featured since, in part due to the competition for places in the squad.
Chelsea‘s Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund‘s Giovanni Reyna are among those who play in a similar position to De la Fuente — who says he’s grown close to USMNT right-back Sergino Dest since he joined Barca from Ajax — but he welcomes the battle for places.
“There are a lot of really good young players coming through in the U.S. right now, some of them already playing in Europe, so it’s really good,” he said. “The more competition, the better you get, so I am ready for the challenge.”