FRISCO, Texas – For North Texas SC’s Lamar Batista, a move to Frisco has always been written in the stars. It was simply a matter of when.
“I went to visit FC Dallas when I was 15. [Luchi Gonzalez] invited me out, so I’ve actually known him for quite a few years. A lot of people don’t know that, but we go way back,” the defender said. “We were working on a potential move for me to join the Academy and go to school here for two years, but I had some family issues going on at the time and we decided it was best I stay in Oklahoma, but we were to stay in touch. It all works out that we’re reunited. It feels right.”
Back in his childhood days, Batista always knew soccer was his favorite sport. While growing up in Oklahoma inevitably led to American football, there was something special about the beautiful game.
“Soccer was always my sport,” Batista said. “I preferred to have the ball at my feet.”
Although Batista’s competitive playing options were limited at the time, his journey kicked off in middle school.
“I started competitive soccer when I was in sixth grade. My team had an A-team and a B-team. I made the B-team and was involved for about four-six months before I moved up and was a starter for the first team,” he said.
Soon after, Batista’s team merged with its rival club. The defender was invited to stay on, and success quickly followed.
“We were state champs pretty much every year and I got a taste of regionals,” Batista said. “Then, I got to high school soccer and won a bunch of state championships. My youth career was pretty decent.”
Believe it or not, this was not enough to take the next step up, however. In order to be properly recognized by scouts, Batista needed to compete in the Olympic Development Program as well.
“Being from Oklahoma, soccer is not that big there, so I played ODP,” Batista said. “That’s how I got seen by [the University of California Santa Barbara] and went that route.”
Upon his arrival on the West Coast, Batista struggled to get out of the gates.
“I was highly recruited by them and when I got there, they wanted to play me as a center back. My first few games, I only played a half because they were trying to ease me in. It just wasn’t clicking,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the level or my confidence, but after that, they moved me around a bit. I started coming off the bench as a winger and even as a striker one game.”
In the midst of a five-game losing streak, Batista’s coach sat him down for a heart-to-heart conversation which quickly turned things around.
“He sat me down and asked me where I wanted to play, which was a weird question for me as a freshman. I gave him the best answer I could and told him, ‘Wherever I can help the team the most,’” Batista said. “He laughed and told me, ‘I appreciate that, but man-to-man talk, where do you think your best position is?’”
After some deliberation, Batista mentioned a move into the midfield.
“And my coach told me, ‘Ok, next game, you’ll start in the midfield.’ I kid you not, I was like, ‘Is this guy joking or what?’”
It paid off, though. As his squad found its groove, Batista spent the majority of that season playing as a defensive midfielder. Upon the conclusion of his freshman season, Batista became a pro and earned a chance with the Portland Timbers.
“It worked out perfectly. I never had to take a break after the college season and went straight into pre-season with the Timbers’ first team,” Batista said.
The defender went on to feature heavily for Portland’s reserve team, Timbers 2, that season. Like most athletes, though, the quick step into the professional world came with plenty of learning curves.
“Portland really taught me how to be a pro,” Batista said. “The hardest part was just learning that it is not just your job for the 4-5 hours a day you’re in the facility.”
In the years that followed, Batista also spent time with Phoenix Rising FC, FC Tucson and even Los Angeles FC. In March, the return to North Texas finally became official. Batista saw preseason action in the team’s 2-0 victory over SMU, but the outbreak of COVID-19 saw things come to a swift halt.
“It’s a perfect real-world example that things can really end at any time and you never know when it’s coming,” Batista said. “I never thought we’d be out for this long.”
Today, Batista and his girlfriend are simply trying to keep their minds occupied. Nobody is quite sure when soccer will return.
“We have been going on a bunch of walks recently, which is nice with the good weather here in Frisco,” Batista said. “We’ve been doing a lot of puzzles together, watching more shows on Netflix and cooking a lot more.”
While the coaching staff continues to push Batista and his teammates to stay fit, it simply cannot make up for the absence of on-field competition. One thing is certain, though: Batista is as anxious to debut his skills as ever.
“When the season does start, North Texas will be ready, and I want to be sure that we can secure another [title].”