Sueño MLS presented by Allstate: Opening day in Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Two hundred and sixty four became 25 on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver on the opening day of Sueño MLS presented by Allstate in Colorado, with several players making their case to move onto the finals in LA.

The 264 participants vying for a chance to go to Los Angeles and earn a chance to join an MLS academy mostly came from the immediate Denver area but several others made lengthy treks from Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and even LA in pursuit of their dream.

Current MLSers Brian Mullan, Jeb Brovsky, Dillon Serna, Shane O’Neill, Conor Casey, Nat Borchers, Todd Dunivant and Bobby Burling all grew up in Colorado, perhaps lending hope to the 14-to-17 years olds who turned up on Saturday that they too can play professionally one day.

“I think any time a kid gets a chance to play is great,” said Colorado Rapids defender Mullan, who grew up in nearby Aurora and signed autographs and posed for pictures with contestants on Saturday. “It keeps them involved, it keeps them out of trouble. I think getting in front of coaches and people that can develop them is always a good thing as well. I think there’s a lot more opportunities for kids nowadays which is great to help grow the sport here in America.”

The versatile Juan Cerda of Colorado Springs stood out on both offense and defense in the second round of games, and Joshua Gomez and Jesus Arredondo flashed skill on the offensive side, getting each of them a call back for Sunday.

In the third round of games, forward Luis Loera’s athleticism and a stunning end-to-end goal made him one of the players to keep an eye on on Sunday, and teammate Jesus Ricardo Montenez also stood out with his distribution as an attacking midfielder.

After a break for the goalkeeper camp, Allan Castillo – making the trip to suburban Denver all the way from Burbank, Calif. – impressed at attacking midfield, earning him a look for Sunday as well. Gilberto Tovar, a finalist in last year’s competition, also impressed in the same round of games, scoring a goal and catching coaches’ attention on attack.

In the final games of the afternoon, goalie Ernesto Galvan produced a string of fine first-half saves to lock up his spot on Sunday, and Fort Collins-product Juan Hernandez scored two goals, including one on a terrific free kick, to also book his ticket for Sunday morning’s finale. On Sunday, 25 players will be whittled down to the six spots to go to LA next month.

All-in-all, Saturday proved to be a win-win, offering kids a chance to pursue their dreams while giving the Rapids a chance to potentially uncover local talent.

“It’s a very valuable tool for us, because we want to cast our net as wide as we can in evaluating talent,” Rapids senior director of youth development Brian Crookham, who helped judge Saturday’s competition, said of Sueño MLS. “It’s another tool that we can use to do that. We’ve seen some very talented boys in here over the past couple of years here. Some are from our geography, some are not, and there are challenges that go along with that, but in the end it’s something that’s a very, very positive thing for our club.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.