A young Regina man has signed a pro contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, but not to play on the pitch.
Instead, Alex Gonzalez-Aldana — a top-level player of the soccer video game FIFA — will be the Whitecaps' esports representative in the eMLS League.
Gonzalez-Aldana said he was contacted by the Whitecaps a few weeks ago. He got on the organization's radar after he qualified for a pair of Global Series tournaments that feature 32 of the best FIFA players in the world.
Adan Rootman, the Whitecaps director of marketing and digital, said Gonzalez-Aldana is a perfect fit with the club.
Rootman said they wanted a Canadian player that could give the club a competitive edge in the eMLS space.
When they looked at Gonzalez-Aldana, they found out he had a connection with the club. Gonzalez-Aldana had lived in Vancouver before moving to Regina.
Then, in Regina, he played on the pitch for the Whitecaps' Saskatchewan BMO Academy team.
"So here's a kid that's connected to the real game and has that intimate connection to the club," he said. "And you're talking about a kid who's in the top 32 in the world on his platform."
Gonzalez-Aldana will compete against competitors from other MLS teams in up to three eMLS League Series events.
The first takes place in Philadelphia on Jan. 10 and the second is in Portland, Ore., later in the year.
Those two events serve as qualifying for the EMLS Cup final being held March 21 in Austin, Texas.
Gonzalez-Aldana said he is "super proud" to get the opportunity to represent the Whitecaps. He's already done a round of photo shoots and media interviews for the club.
"It's been really smooth going," he said. "And the guys are really nice."
Rootman said they they try to make the events a special experience for the players.
"They all kitted out in jerseys and there's lots of content that the league puts out throughout each of these events."
The Whitecaps will be sending a social media person to make a video log of Gonzalez-Aldana's experience.
"So we'll be following along with Alex and trying to capture his journey and, you know, hopefully he does well and we'll have some good storylines that come out of it."
Rootman said the eMLS gives the league exposure to a younger demographic.
"FIFA is the most played game in the entire world," he said. "So we're definitely getting our brand on another set of eyeballs that is wrapped around gaming."
While getting paid to play has been a dream of his, Gonzalez-Aldana is taking it in stride and trying not to let the moment get the better of him.
"How many other people have this opportunity?" he said. "I just want to see where it takes me."