CARSON, Calif. — Eighteen youngsters took the field Thursday morning, all dreaming they'll be the last ones standing when the victors of Sueño MLS - Presented by Allstate are crowned Sunday morning on Univision's Republica Deportiva, but winning is, well, overrated.
The 15 field players and three goalkeepers in contention for the Sueño honors, all ages 14 to 17, are slated for three training sessions leading to friendlies Friday afternoon and Saturday morning against an LA Galaxy Academy side and then Sunday's on-air announcement, and those in charge hope to unearth more than just a couple of official winners.
“There will be one winner, but what I think we try to do in MLS is take the next four or five or six kids that show promise, hey, let's put them in there as well. Let's keep them in an academy,” Alfonso Mondelo, the MLS director of player programs and lead Sueño coach, told MLSsoccer.com. “We're watching [these kids] over only two or three days. Let's put them in an academy, let's keep them there for a year, and maybe one who is number one this year, maybe [another player] two or three years from now can make it further.
“The idea isn't to take one winner. The idea is to take these kids and now give them the opportunity.”
The finalists – five field players and a goalkeeper each from tryouts with the Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and D.C. United – all have strong technical skills, a must to impress in this arena, but Mondelo and assistants Jeff Agoos, Carlos Valderrama and Felix Fernandez want to see much more. This year's group looks particularly promising.
“I think the level is getting better and better [every year],” said Mondelo, a former MetroStars and Tampa Bay Mutiny head coach. “I think this group this year, from what I've seen after just one practice, has a little more talent than we had in previous years.
“They all have good foot skills, so I think if they impress with that, now it's the ability of playing the game at a higher level, to play the game and staying connected and being focused and concentrating for long periods of time. That's what we're going to see if they can do over the course of the next few days.”
Agoos, a two-time US World Cup selection, five-time MLS Cup champion, former technical director with the New York Red Bulls and currently MLS' technical director of competition, says there are “a couple of players here who are head and shoulders above everybody else, but then there's four or five of those guys that influence one or two [important] plays in a game. There's only four days here [to impress], so it's very, very difficult. It's going to come down to a couple different plays, I think.”