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 Rhode Island FC

The Promise of a Smile

May 23, 2024 - United Soccer League Championship (USL)
Rhode Island FC News Release

Koke Vegas always knew he wanted to be a goalkeeper. It was in his blood.

Inspired by a simple promise made at a young age to his father, Kiko, who also played professionally as a goalkeeper, Vegas' journey from the youth ranks of Spain to the United States helped mold a principle that has defined his professional career.

"My father always told me during my career that I have to enjoy the game, and I have a promise with him that I have to smile at least once a game," said Vegas.

Koke's father, along with his family, was in the stands the day he made his professional debut at just 15 years old. As he took the field, Vegas became the youngest player in Antequera C.F. history to debut for the first team. Vegas played the final 15 minutes of a scoreless draw in the midst of a tense playoff battle for promotion to the Spanish third division. In that moment, Vegas' promise to his father helped him overcome his nerves and enjoy what was a historic day for his hometown club, where he spent eight years of his youth.

"I felt nervous before coming on but I remember a moment, just before I stepped on the field," said Vegas. "I turned my back and I saw my dad in the stadium. He smiled at me and I gave him a smile back. Years later, he told me that his friends that were there too and they asked him, 'your son is going to make his debut, and he's not nervous? He's smiling at you right now. How can this be?' So that moment was really special and I have good memories of it. Anyone would be nervous. I just decided to turn to my dad and smile."

This basic principle is one that has stuck with Vegas throughout his career. Vegas spent 11 years in Spain, enjoying stints with seven different clubs, most notably spending five seasons with LaLiga side Levante U.D., a club that enjoyed two separate promotions to the Spanish top flight.

"Those moments are amazing," said Vegas. "Individually, your debut is the best moment, but as collective moments, the promotions were crazy. They were better than staying in LaLiga after a tough year. To get promoted is so amazing."

Vegas' career playing at the highest level in Spain took him to iconic destinations in the sport, including the home sites of the historic 'El Clasico' rivalry: Real Madrid CF's Santiago Bernabeu and FC Barcelona's Camp Nou. But after struggling to get consistent playing time in his home country, Vegas made the difficult decision to begin searching for options abroad. With the European season in full swing and most rosters already full, especially in his position, Vegas spent nearly six months without a club as a free agent. In the search for a new club, his primary goal was simple: to play.

Eventually, enticed by a simple sales pitch from San Diego Loyal SC owner and U.S. Soccer legend Landon Donavan, Vegas took a leap of faith and decided to move stateside to the USL Championship in 2022.

"He convinced me to go to San Diego," said Vegas. "He told me something like, 'I don't have the money you were making in LaLiga, but I have the minutes you're looking for.' That was what most impacted me, because at that moment, the money wasn't important to me. I only wanted to feel like a goalkeeper again, feel that I was an important part of a new project and have a staff that really trusted me."

Although adapting to a new country and a new culture was difficult at first, the risk paid off.

"In all my years in Spain, at the top level, it was an amazing experience to be there," said Vegas. "But at the end of the day, everybody wants to be an important part of a club. My last year in San Diego was really meaningful. I played almost every minute. I felt like I was important. The fans gave me the Player of the Year award. It was a really emotional year because the club disappeared after the season. So for many reasons, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had."

In San Diego, Vegas earned the starting role between the sticks for two straight seasons through the club's final match in 2023, making 65 total appearances and keeping 15 clean sheets. Following the unfortunate news surrounding the club's sudden folding at the end of the season, Vegas' career was once again thrown into uncertainty.

"The last regular season game at home was one of the most emotional moments I have ever had," said Vegas. "It's difficult to explain what we experienced there, but we built something special. And that's why I wanted to join Rhode Island FC, because I knew it was a project from the beginning. Starting from zero. I wanted to bring all the things my career has taught me, all the good things that I think are important for a new club, and try to bring them with me here to Rhode Island."

Although it came to an abrupt and emotional end, Vegas' time in San Diego represented a full-circle moment in his career. Determined to get to the highest level and constantly looking to improve ever since coming to the U.S., an important realization struck the 28-year-old that brought him back to the days of his first-ever match in Spain more than a decade prior.

"To be honest, my goal right now is to be happy playing soccer," said Vegas. "And for me to be happy right now is to change my mindset a little bit. I learned in San Diego that it's important to feel the community close to you. Have the trust of the staff. The trust of your teammates. That makes you happy. And that's the most important thing."

The early values that his father instilled in him have also shaped his character off the field. Together, the pair founded KVegas Academy, a company focused on emotional training for young athletes to help them achieve the best experience possible. As Vegas puts it, "The person comes before the player."

Both on and off the field, Vegas never played the sport as a job, for the personal accolades or for the money. For him, it's been a lifelong passion project, with its next chapter being written in the Ocean State.

"I want the community to remember me as a person that tried to create something special," said Vegas. "I want to be remembered not only as a player on the field, but also as a person who made a positive impact in Rhode Island."

Vegas and the rest of his teammates return to Beirne Stadium on Saturday, May 25 to take on Eastern Conference foe Louisville City FC at 4 p.m. Tickets to the match are available now at

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