At one point in time, there was a kid sitting in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium watching Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid CF play football. That kid, Alejandro Fernandez, sat in awe of Ronaldo. It was an easy way to fall in love with the game.
Fernandez, who comes from Alcala de Henares, Madrid, has always done his best to imitate the game of Ronaldo. From the time he was young, he wanted to be exactly like him. He always heard the debate about who was the best player of all-time. To him it’s clear.
“I know Messi is really good and I understand the point of the fans who like Messi over Ronaldo, but what he means to me is a lot,” Fernandez said. “He’s a leader and he’s really ambitious, at Real Madrid you could see his reactions and his behavior on the field, and you say to yourself is that one day you want to become that player.”
Growing up in Madrid, Fernandez was given a lot of opportunities. That’s something he acknowledges and if you ask him, he has the best parents in the world and the best family in the world.
“I have no complaints about my past, and I’m proud of it and I actually love it,” Fernandez said.
His journey to Slippery Rock was a different one. Fernandez looked at the engineering program just as much as he did the soccer program, but the difference in the end was how professional Head Coach Kevin Wilhelm was. That alone became a very large part in why Fernandez chose The Rock.
“Slippery Rock showed the best support and interest in me, and when Coach Wilhelm contacted me, he was very friendly and professional, and that was mainly the thing that got me to Slippery Rock,” Fernandez said. “When you get different offers, you get to compare them, and this was the best one for sure.”
Slippery Rock just fit him the best, and that made the decision to come across the Atlantic Ocean an easy one. He could not only continue his education, which is extremely important to him, but even over 3,860 miles from home he could feel comfortable.
It was important to him that he came somewhere where he was close to a big city too. Lucky for him, Pittsburgh is only about 45 minutes from Slippery Rock. Pittsburgh is a city he’s come to appreciate a lot.
“I find a lot of similarities in Pittsburgh and Madrid, it has all those that make it become a top city in the states. I’ve been to New York, but I choose Pittsburgh over New York,” Fernandez said. “It’s a cleaner city, I love the way of the distribution of stores and how the stadiums are close together, and it honestly made an impact on my decision to come here.”
Fernandez loves the city of Pittsburgh, because it almost reminds him of home. But unlike home, nearly everyone here speaks English. Something he didn’t have to do at home, but he tried to learn regardless.
In Spain, he tried to attend as many English-speaking academies as he could, but it wasn’t until he got here that he really began to learn how to speak the English language. Upon arriving here, he knew his English wasn’t good enough, but just by hanging out with his teammates, he was able to learn.
“When I got here the English I had was not good enough, I struggled with every sentence, every word, and everything I wanted to say,” Fernandez said. “By speaking and listening, but mostly listening, I gained the vocabulary that I use nowadays.”
Soon he took to the field with those same teammates who had been helping him learn the English language. On the field, he experienced a lot of success. He started every game his freshman year and, in those games, he would net five goals and had two assists. His 12 points were the second most on the team.
“To be honest I didn’t expect to do that well in my first season,” Fernandez said. “I got used to American soccer, which I don’t think is worse, but is definitely different.”
Fernandez did so well that he was named All-PSAC West. When it was announced the team was coming back from a game and stopped to grab something to eat, but Fernandez didn’t have a phone at the time, so he didn’t even know until his teammates came up to him and told him.
“When I got named first team Western PSAC I was surprised, because I didn’t know how it worked, I knew they gave player of the week but I didn’t know they gave out all these awards at the end of the season,” Fernandez said. “When I found out we were at Chipotle, and I didn’t have a phone or Wi-Fi at the time, so my teammates were coming up and saying congratulations and I didn’t know what was going on.”
He was a key piece in the team that finally broke through to make it back to the playoffs. That team lost in the first round of the PSAC tournament, 3-0 to Mercyhurst University, but the steps were taken.
“Through the season we saw that we had chances to make playoffs, and we could see clearly the top two teams were Gannon and Mercyhurst, but we weren’t the team chosen to win the PSAC that year, so just making the playoffs was an achievement,” Fernandez said.
Only a few months later, COVID-19 would hit. At the time that things started to get crazy he was in Florida, but on March 14 his mom got him a plane ticket to come home before things were shut down.
Over the months of the pandemic, Fernandez’s itch to get back on the field grew and grew. By the time it was nearly time for the season to begin in 2020 he knew it would likely be canceled. He had to wait a whole year to finally return to action, but the disappointment of losing his sophomore season is still there.
“It was sad when the season was canceled, because I was really excited to play my sophomore season, but I figured it wouldn’t happen because in the summer things weren’t doing well,” Fernandez said.
When he finally got back onto the field, his excitement was like no other. He was finally back on the pitch and was playing in competitive games for The Rock. It was a long 659 days for him, and everyone on the team.
“I played over the summer in the USL 2 for a club in West Virginia, so I was excited to put all the things I learned over there to practice here,” Fernandez said. “I grew a lot as a player, so I was really happy to show it to my teammates and coach.”
In the first game of the season, The Rock squared off with Lake Erie College and Fernandez was able to put the ball in the back of the net for the first goal of the season on a penalty kick. It was even sweeter that it was against the goalkeeper who he played with for West Virginia United.
This season so far, he has put up three goals and three assists, and there is still a lot of time left. Making first team PSAC West hasn’t left his mind either, he wants to do it again. That’s one of his goals this season. But the biggest one is helping bring a PSAC title back to Slippery Rock.
“I think that we’ve seen possibilities and chances to win the PSAC, and I don’t know if it’s our main goal, but it’s definitely something we want to do,” Fernandez said. “I want Slippery Rock to be one of the top three or four teams in the conference, and if that comes from winning the PSAC then that would be amazing.”