Sueno MLS: Carlos Valderrama sees big things for technically gifted winner Johnny Chavarria
CARSON, Calif. – The holding midfield position might be the most important in soccer, instigating attacks, setting the defensive tone and playing a vital role in any possession game.
There are a lot of moving parts, and it's rare to find young players who truly understand the position and all of its responsibilities.
Johnny Chavarria is one who gets it, and that was the difference as he outpaced 14 rivals to win the Sueño MLS talent search.
Chavarria, 16, of Las Vegas, Nev., receives an opportunity with the LA Galaxy Academy, and one legend thinks he could do something special there.
"He has a great future," said revered Colombian star Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama, who worked with the players alongside MLS director of player programs Alfonso Mondelo and retired Mexican goalkeeper Martin Zuñiga. "He has great presence on the field, and he's a fighter. But what impressed me was mostly his technical skill.
"It's not really that easy at that age to know that position, but he has a good stance on the field, and when he has the ball, he able to distribute evenly. It's very important for a team to have that position, that player able to hold the ball and distribute the ball, and when his team doesn't have the ball, he's a challenger. He goes out there and tries to obtain the ball."
Chavarria (pictured above, in blue) was doing what comes naturally. He has an instinctual feel for the field and superb vision, and the scouts and coaches liked his work ethic.
"I just played my game and worked hard and stayed mentally focused on the game," said Chavarria, whose parents and three Los Angeles-based cousins were on hand for Sunday morning's announcement at StubHub Center. "I've never had a day to rest. 'A day you don't train is a day another player in the world is getting better.' I always keep that in mind. That's why I try to train and play every day."
Chavarria, who plays for Las Vegas Gunners, was among the most impressive players in the Sueño MLS finalists' 3-1 loss to a Galaxy U-16 team Saturday, but he'd already caught Valderrama's eye.
"He has a great sense of the field, of the game, and when I saw him, I started following him," Valderrama said. "The game against the Galaxy, he impressed me very much. [StubHub's main stadium field is] a bigger field, and you get to see if the player understands his position. And that's why I was impressed with him."
Luis Garcia, a 16-year-old attacking midfielder from Castaic, Calif., and Gilberto Tovar, a 17-year-old outside back from Athens, Kan., joined Chavarria among the final three. Valderrama has high hopes for them, as well as others.
"It was a hard competition," Valderrama said. "I think there were, like, five impactful players, and they could keep growing if they find a good academy. They can achieve the dream."
Chavarria was, of course, elated when his name was called -- it was televised live on Univision's "Republica Deportiva" -- but his father, Heriberto, was even more emotional.
"Unbelievable. It's amazing," he said, fighting back tears. "He's always motivated, he always wants to be a champion, and he's so passionate about him. I work hard to support him, to help him follow his dream."
Chavarria looked onto the field the Galaxy call home. That's his dream.
"I just love the possession game, what the LA Galaxy team is doing," he said. "I like what they're doing, and I hope to be one of their teammates one day."