Alex Bruce scored his first goal as a professional player 20 minutes into San Antonio FC’s 2-1 win Saturday at home to Fresno FC. That’s not too shabby considering he’s not even 20 years old yet.
After playing for Tompkins High School in Katy, Texas, where he earned First-Team All-State and District Offensive Most Valuable Player honors in his senior year, Bruce joined Texans SC U-17s/18s for the 2016-17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season, notching 17 goals in 31 matches en route to the club winning the national championship. SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell invited him to train with the club in late 2017, during which he impressed enough to earn his first professional contract for 2018.
“I’m still one of the young ones and obviously I’m still learning a lot, but all the guys do teach me a lot,” Bruce said. “Darren’s just told me to be patient and my chance will come…whenever I need to step up, I’ll step up and do the job.”
Saturday was Bruce’s first appearance in the comfortable confines of Toyota Field, but he had already made two appearances in away matches in 2018 – and could have notched his first goal in either.
Bruce came on with just seven minutes to go in SAFC’s season opener on March 17 against Sacramento Republic FC but made the most of it. He was first denied a goal when Republic FC goalkeeper Josh Cohen claimed a cross into the box as Bruce was jumping at the far post, then Bruce headed a ball into the bottom corner of the goal from close range only for Cohen to dive and save it spectacularly.
His next appearance lasted much longer, coming on in the 20th minute for the injured Ever Guzman in SAFC’s 3-1 win away to Las Vegas Lights FC on April 27. That time, Bruce actually put the ball in the net twice, but the strikes were ruled out for a foul in the buildup and Bruce being offside, respectively.
“Just get onto the next one and the next one won’t be offside,” Bruce said looking forward.
Bruce’s performances so far have shown some roughness around the edges. He missed two chances late in Saturday’s match, firing wide first on the ground and then into the air from a few yards out. And while you’d expect a 6-foot-2-inch forward – the tallest attacking player for SAFC – to perform decently when matching up against opponents, he’s often come out second-best, winning only two of 18 duels he’s engaged in.
Bruce is showing progress in other areas though. His first touch, particularly in tight spaces and under pressure, has shown slight improvement and he’s also pulled off a few clever and important passes as attacks build. In addition, Bruce’s movement and positioning have looked promising – particularly in the box, he’s getting into the right spaces.
That was most evident with Bruce’s goal Saturday as he slid in at the far post to redirect a cross from defender Darnell King. For all the narrow misses before and after, that was one instance where everything came together just right, and Powell was pleased with the goal and Bruce’s efforts as a whole.
“That performance doesn’t surprise anybody in that locker room or the coaching staff at all. It’s good for him in his young career that he can now transfer (his hard work in training) on a Saturday night. He’s a good character, he comes with hard work every day and tonight was a good reward for him, but he’s still in very early days and he’s got a lot of work to do to continue improving.”
Bruce is making the most of the time he’s been given. While only two of his six shots this season have been on target, one turned into a goal and the other was saved spectacularly. Bruce also has the second-best minutes-per-goal ratio on the team at 167, behind only SAFC’s leading scorer Mikey Lopez at 148.
That said, Bruce won’t be taking the first-choice forward spot from Guzman anytime soon. Despite a slow start to the season offensively, Guzman showed at the end of 2017 he’s capable of bagging goals on a regular basis for SAFC, and he’s better at holding up play and connecting with teammates in attack, far and away SAFC’s leader in passing accuracy in the opponent’s half at 78.5 percent.
If Bruce is working as hard as Powell says he is and continues to show flashes of promise though, then he’ll earn more and more chances as time goes on. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but the first steps haven’t looked bad.