Athletic Bilbao youth academy player has strong ties to Boise

Ander Egiluz planned to attend Capital High last year until he received a life-changing phone call.

Athletic Bilbao, the hometown soccer team for the native of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country, offered him a spot in its famous youth academy, Lezama. And while he planned to spend his junior year in Boise with his mother’s family, he said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I have my feet on the ground, and I know that it is very hard,” Egiluz said. “But it is my dream to play professionally. Soccer is getting big in the United States, but playing professionally in Europe and with Athletic would really be my dream.”

This week, the 17-year-old central midfielder gets to show off his team as he helps Bilbao behind the scenes during its visit to Boise to take on Mexico’s Club Tijuana. The Basque Soccer Friendly starts at 7:06 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.

Egiluz and his family travel to Boise every summer and for most Christmas holidays. His maternal grandparents emigrated to Southern Idaho through Ellis Island, giving birth to Egiluz’s mother, Michelle Alzola, in Mountain Home. She met Egiluz’s father, Jose Luis Egiluz, while singing in a Basque choir when the Basque government sent the orchestra director to Boise to aid the choir.

In addition to the game, this summer’s trip also reunites the family. Egiluz and his father stayed behind in Bilbao while Michelle came to Boise, enrolling his younger sister, Ane, at Valley View Elementary, which Egiluz attended in fifth grade while playing for the Boise Nationals Soccer Club.

“It was an interesting year for the family,” Egiluz said. “It was kind of tough. But we’re all back together now, and, at the end of the summer, we’ll all go back over there together.”

Egiluz said the family didn’t plan its trip for the game. But now that they’re here, he will serve as a translator for Bilbao’s senior team and help with anything he can around town. He can speak Basque, Spanish and English, plus he can navigate all three cultures.

And as one of about 20 players in his age group in Bilbao’s youth academy, he jokes that if extra face time with the senior-team coaches gets him noticed, that can’t hurt.

“That’d be nice if I could take advantage of it,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just going to try to make them have a great time in Boise and help them out with anything, show them and talk about what Idaho is and what Boise is.”

Egiluz, a dual Spanish and American citizen, will finish high school this year. And while he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, joining Bilbao’s academy that feeds its Basque-only first team allows him to dream of one day suiting up in red and white for the team he grew up rooting for. Playing for the U.S. national team and in MLS also remain goals.

“I just really don’t know what I’m going to find in the future,” he said. “Coming to college in the United States is still a possibility. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. But my dream is to play for Athletic, and playing for the U.S. national team would be very neat.

“But we’re talking about dreams here, really.”