BELL GARDENS, Calif. – Jessie Echeverria Gramajo didn't have his best outing Sunday morning, when the 25 Los Angeles finalists tangled in the final test of the Sueño MLS qualifying weekend at Bell Gardens Sports Complex.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles 16-year-old's effort Saturday – the first day of the LA Galaxy's tryouts for the annual talent search – was far more impressive. He was one of six teenage players to snare a spot in the “Final Event” and move closer to an invitation to play in an MLS academy.
“The first round, I did very well,” said Echeverria Gramajo, a left back who made it to the second day, but no further, in the Galaxy's Sueño tryouts last year. “I think that's why the coaches liked the way I played. I went all out yesterday.
“I [got to bed] late last night, because I had things to do with my friends and wasn't able to come home until around 10 - so I didn't play so well today. I could have played better.”
The early kickoff Sunday, a little after 7:30 a.m. local time, didn't help, but his combination of field vision, foot skills and ability to take charge of his team impressed those charged with the decision, who placed among five field players and a goalkeeper who will join another dozen players from Denver and New York at StubHub Center a few miles to the southwest May 13-18.
“It was a very good group,” said Wes Meadows, the Galaxy's supervisor of camps and clinics/fan development, who was in charge of the scouts. “We finished up with a [40-minute] 11-v-11 scrimmage, and there wasn't actually a goal, so the scrimmage was very competitive. I think every player gave everything he had. They were all fighting hard for a spot, so, all in all, the scouts and staff were very impressed.”
A largely experienced group is advancing to the final stage. Chavarria, like Echeverria Gramajo, was within a step of the national finals last year, when he tried out at the Colorado Rapids' event. Garcia and Rizo took part in the Galaxy's weekend.
Only Pinedo, who traveled 135 miles from the Central Valley, and Jimenez, the youngest of the sextet, were rookies.
The scouts were wowed by Chavarria's composure and decision-making, Garcia's intelligence, Jimenez's ability to run the flank and Pinedo's athleticism. Rizo prevailed among the final three goalkeepers because, said former Mexican star Martin Zuniga, he is “muy completo.”
“We're looking at all these kids [among the 25],” Meadows said. “The last couple selections were very difficult. There's a lot of good players out here, and we felt there were a lot of players on the cusp that could have been selected. I know it's difficult, because it's only two days and not a lot of exposure they get with us, so it all comes down to how well they do under pressure.”
Those who succeeded handled that pressure well, and they were thrilled when their names were called on Univision's “Republica Deportiva.” Even if they didn't think they played all that well.
“I was more happy about the way I played last year than this year,” Echeverria Gramajo said. “But this is, I mean, it's not so shocking. I felt I could've made it last year, too. But this year I'm focused on staying humble.
“I'm going to keep trying – I should play for the Galaxy. It's something I've been telling myself: I'm going to make the tryouts. And here I am. We'll see how it goes.”
The players moving on to the finals from the Los Angeles tryouts:
Johnny Chavarria, 16 (M/Las Vegas)
Jessie Echeverria Gramajo, 16 (D/Los Angeles)
Luis Garcia, 16 (M/Castaic, Calif.)
Anthony Jimenez, 14 (M/Los Angeles)
Jose Pinedo, 15 (M/McFarland, Calif.)
Jorge Rizo, 15 (GK/El Monte, Calif.)