Sergi Palencia LAFC 2024 home kit

part of an ongoing series that introduces LAFC players in their own words

It all started in Badalona, my home city, 20 minutes from Barcelona.

I had a happy, normal childhood. I was always around a football. Always, always. Some kids try different sports until they find one they are good at. Me? No. It was always football. The game raised me.

My father and my grandpa were big Barça fans [Barcelona FC]. I watched every Barcelona game as a kid. I never thought of football as my dream, like, “I want to be like that one day.” I don’t remember those feelings. What I remember is playing near my house, every day. I remember the feeling of constantly improving. And then one day I found myself among the best, at Barcelona.

It happened like this. I remember it so well. I was 11 years old. I was playing on a sand pitch near my home. Someone told me before the game, “Barcelona scouts will be here.” I was so nervous!

I scored with my left foot that day. I had never scored with my left foot. I remember two men who were there – I don’t know for sure that they were Barça scouts, but they were wearing Barça training shirts. Right after I scored, they left. I said to myself, ‘OK, that’s a good sign.’

The following week our local club received a fax. Barça wanted me to do a test, a trial at Barcelona’s training ground. 

It was like entering another world. All I knew to that point was playing in Badalona with my friends, laughing, arriving late – playing for fun! And now here I was, surrounded by super professional, super serious, very responsible guys. It was a completely different environment. I did well that day because I liked the seriousness. I welcomed the professionalism of it. 

I stayed there for 11 years. From 2006 to 2018 I was a Barcelona player.

I learned a lot at the Barça academy. I learned how to behave, how to understand the game, how to perform in every situation the game presents. I grew as a person also. I became more mature. This is how Barcelona helped me. 

I never thought, ‘I want to play with the first team. That’s my goal.’ No, I was still playing for fun. Like I said, football is my passion. Even today, I am always on my phone watching games. If there is a game in Italy, South America, an African competition—I’m watching.  

At Barcelona, every year new players come in. They are always renewing the teams and the level of play is very high. I was always the guy who was right on the line. ‘He will not stay. He didn’t play a lot. He will have to go find another team.’ I was always on that line. I never knew if I would be staying or leaving. But because of my attitude – my approach to training, my mindset of always helping the team, being generous, having a good attitude even when I didn’t play as much as I wanted – this is what helped me stay every year. 

Then, boom, I started playing more. Then I became a starter. This happened when I was 16, 17. I used to play in the midfield, but after a lot of good midfielders came in they played me at right back. I had found my new home.

I became captain of the team. I kept improving. At the end of that year there was no doubt I would be back the following year. When I returned, I officially became a professional, playing for Barça B. (Here, we call this level LAFC2.)

Barça B was in a tough moment, though. They were not doing well, they were down in the table, then the top two right backs got injured. It was my time. 

My coach with the Barça Under-19s had been promoted to Barça B and brought me with him. When the other right backs got hurt he bet on me. I had two very good games, I stayed for the rest of the year with Barça B, then the next year I became a captain. We got promoted to the second division. I renewed my contract. My career was trending upward. The next step was to either stay with Barça B or be moved to the first team, where only one percent of players get to play. 

When I was told I had not made the top roster, I said to myself, I am 23. I cannot stay at Barça B and play with 17-year-olds. So where do I go?

I looked at the market. Who wants me? My agent and I found a club in France, Girondins de Bordeaux, a historic team that had played in Ligue 1 [France’s top tier] for many decades. They were not in a good situation at the time but there were playing in UEFA Europa League, a very high level. They wanted me on loan, they were a Ligue 1 team, the market was about to close, I knew the coach – I said, Great.

The first day I went there they were playing a Europa League match. At the end of the game the coach tells me, “Sergi, I am going to quit the club today.”

What? I just got here.

It worked out well, though. The guy who came after him played me a lot. I became a starter. I played for Spain’s Under-21 national team. When my loan period ended I was returned to Barcelona, but I was returning as a player who played in Europa League and in Ligue 1. With all due respect to the younger players who were at Barça B at the time, I wasn’t going back to Barça B! They were in the third division, and the roster was full of 17-year-olds. No. 

That’s when I signed with St. Etienne [of France’s Ligue 1]. That same week they signed a new winger named Denis Bouanga. Playing with Denis that year was great, but it was a very difficult time for all the players. For me especially. I injured my ankle and missed two months. They changed coaches. The new coach brought in a right back he preferred over me. Then COVID hit. 

Ligue 1 was one of the few leagues that stopped play and did not resume that year. It was just a very difficult year. We finished 17th in the table. And St. Etienne is very cold. But I learned a lot and the experience made me stronger. The next year the coach stayed and the same right back stayed. “Sergi, I don’t want you,” the coach said. 

I went on loan to Leganés, a second division club in Spain that had a good chance of being promoted [to the first division]. We finished very close to promotion -- we lost a playoff. The second year we finished in the middle of the table. Another rough year. On the field I played well individually, but the team was not good. So if the team is not good, you are considered no good. That’s how it works. If the team is good, every player on the team is the best!

After Leganés I returned to freezing-cold St. Etienne. That summer, Denis [Bouanga] left St. Etienne to come to LAFC.

Six months later, I joined him.

The first time I had ever heard of LAFC was when Carlos [Vela] signed here from Real Sociedad [in 2017]. Then came Giorgio [Chiellini] and [Gareth] Bale and other big names, and everyone in Europe started hearing more about this exciting new project.

Sergi joins Denis LAFC

I’m very happy to be here. LAFC opened its doors to me after I had experienced a difficult moment in Europe. Last season with LAFC was also challenging – 53 total games and three finals – but I enjoyed it so much. This year I feel we can achieve even more. 

I am often asked how MLS is different from Europe’s top divisions, like Ligue 1 and La Liga. I explain it this way: 

In La Liga [Spain], mistakes on the field can be punished more harshly. Here, the style of play allows you to make a mistake without always being punished for it – although it definitely still happens. In Ligue 1 [France], the level and the style of play makes it very hard to be a right back or left back. In every game you are facing big guys running along the sides who are very fast and young and fresh and are trained to go 1v1 against you. 

In France everyone is a beast! I loved playing there because the opposition was incredible. You face players like Denis every day in training. There are very good opponents here [in MLS] too, but usually they have other strengths. Being challenged in different ways is important to any player’s development.

Sergi Palencia y Ryan Hollingshead LAFC

My moment with LAFC right now is one of remaining patient while continuing to work hard and help the team however I can. Ryan [Hollingshead] is a great guy, a top player, an important player for us. I understand this. I am waiting for my moment. Patience is very easy for me. I am at peace with the situation because I know I am doing everything I can. My answer to coaches and teammates is always, ‘Yes.’ I train as hard as anyone. I do my work in the gym. I eat well, I sleep well. I take my preparation very seriously. Whether I play or don’t play is not my decision. Whether I am ready to play is entirely up to me. 

That is what my story has taught me, and can teach others. New opportunities are always there for you. Will you be prepared when they arrive?

I know I will.

Sergi Palencia Signature
2024 Season Membership

2024 Season Membership

Secure your spot in our priority line for the 2024 season.

Place a deposit today!

Receive The Latest LAFC Developments

Receive The Latest LAFC Developments

Including special invitations and offers, Academy updates, and opportunities to get involved in the community.