On July 16, enjoying the game from the comfort of my couch, Fabian Castillo did something incredible against the lowly Chicago Fire.
Around the 22 minute mark, Fabian managed to weave and slash his way through two defenders, keep his balance, bypass one Chicago player’s half-hearted attempt at a foul, and then launch a rabona assist to a hungry predatory-like Urruti waiting to head the ball home.
It was nasty.
It was the kind of moment in a game that takes you a replay or two before you realize what exactly happened. At first, it looked like some typical savvy winger play, one of Fabian’s specialties, taking on defenders one-on-one or even two-on-one. Many times, these moments were sources of frustration for fans, as Fabian would force it, turn the ball over, and watch it go helplessly over the end line. But then there were moments like this, when Fabian would ignore a straightforward cross and do something ridiculous and world class, kicking the ball with his striking foot “wrapped around” the back of his other leg, aka a “rabona”.
And less than a month later, a process painfully drawn out as Fabian reportedly left town at the behest of his agent in order to force a transfer, the young Colombian was gone, one way ticket to Turkey to join Trabzonspor.
In the midst of an FC Dallas season that was historic for the right reasons, Fabian Castillo abandoned his club and his coach. It probably stung most to Coach Oscar Pareja who became like a father figure to the young player, only 19 when he arrived in Texas, letting the winger room in his house as he made the transition. It was Pareja who believed in Castillo and helped him transform from a raw and gifted athlete to an MLS All-Star. This was a painful collision between the business and family sides of the sport.
It too was a nasty moment.
Castillo’s sale itself was structured in a weird way, a $3 million-ish dollar loan with an option to buy for another $1 million or so later. The structure left open the slim possibility that Fabian could be back, something a few fans speculated about. Could the loan be a bust? Was this really the best move for a young player working his way on to the larger stage? Would Trabzonspor, allegedly mired in financial difficulties, have the money to complete the sale?
Despite Fabian burning every bridge on his way out the door of a team that invested so much in him, was there a sliver of hope that he might come home?
With Friday’s signing of Roland Lamah, we can shut the door. Lamah appears to be the perfect replacement for Fabian’s speed, skill, and deadly touches. Sure, Youtube highlights always look good, but this is a guy who potentially brings a bit more maturity as well as experience with some of the top flights of the league and the Belgium National Team. FC Dallas got him cheap too.
FC Dallas probably saw enough of Fabian Castillo to not have many regrets in what might have been. He was an incredible player who could be equally frustrating and exhilarating. He grew up a bit in front of the fans in Frisco. There were moments of visible frustration but moments of sheer joy too. Did he leave the team too soon? What might have transpired in the playoff run with Castillo in that lineup? Would it have been enough extra offense to spur the team onward? We won’t know.
I’m a theologian by training, and there’s a great parable in the Gospel of Luke of a son who spurns his father, essentially asking for his portion of the estate be given out before his father has even died, then going off to a distant land to squander his gifts in rash ways. The scandal of the parable is that, when the son returns home having been lowered to the point of longing to eat alongside pigs, his father embraces him without judgment. This is a powerful image of grace.
Had he returned to FC Dallas (and maybe someday he will), I really believed that Oscar Pareja would have found a way to offer the same kind of gracious second chance to Fabian.
But today, the message is clear - it’s time to move on and embrace the new chapters this club is prepared to write.