LEESBURG, Va. – Moments after being announced as a Sueño MLS finalist on Sunday afternoon, Brett LaBonte stood smiling in front of the Republica Deportiva camera and was asked by one of the show’s co-hosts how he felt he performed in the day’s games.
His answer was surprising.
LaBonte, a 16-year-old forward from Frederick, Md., responded to the question on live television by saying he did not think he played well in the two 20-minute games. But that was not the opinion of the D.C. United Academy scouts, who chose the six players that will head to Los Angeles for the competition’s finals next month.
“He showed pretty well yesterday, but today he came out and was very physical and he showed a little bit more that he wanted it and that was something we were looking for today,” United scout Junior Castro told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “He came out and bodied people off the ball, wasn’t afraid to turn and shoot, [displayed] good distribution, definitely showed up to play today.”
LaBonte, who traveled to the tryouts at Morven Park with his parents, Teresa and Tony, may not have felt like he played up to his standards. But he likely was one of the more in-form players at the event. That’s because he had traveled to Spain with Maryland’s Olympic Development Program team to play four games about a week before he took part in Sueño MLS.
“We were there pretty much just to play, to show them how much better at soccer America has gotten,” LaBonte told MLSsoccer.com.
A self-described speedy, right-footed forward who is not “one of the divers” and whose favorite player is Ronaldinho, LaBonte partially credited his success this past weekend to playing with that ODP team. He believes that experience helped him learn to adapt quickly to playing with unfamiliar players and be very vocal, attributes that saw him secure passage to Los Angeles despite his belief that he could have fared better.
“I got here and we had to wait a long time before we could actually get to play, so I think that threw off my focus a little bit,” said LaBonte. “When we first started playing, it took me a little too long to get into the game. But I guess I got in well enough to get the coach’s attention, which is always great.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.