CARSON, Calif. -- The Sueño MLS finalists passed their first test Friday, moving the ball nicely, creating chances and dictating the pace most of the way through a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy's U-16 Academy side -- and looking like a veteran group while doing so.
“We did really good,” said Alexander Soto, a 14-year-old midfielder from Elizabeth, N.J., who scored the Sueño goal midway through the first half. “We played like if we'd played 20 years together. We played really good, man.”
Soto was among the standouts as Alfonso Mondelo, MLS's director of player programs and chief coach for the Sueño finals at the Home Depot Center, gave all 15 field players and two of the three goalkeepers action in a 50-minute scrimmage. The goalkeeper who did not play, Daniel Ontiveros of Denver, is slated to play the first half of Saturday morning's 90-minute friendly with the Galaxy's U-18 Academy team.
That's the game that counts.
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“I think it is the most important thing,” said Mondelo, whose staff will determine the winners who will be announced Sunday morning on Univision's Republica Deportiva. “This is what we build up towards. It's a real competition, it's a real match, it's going to have a real feel. We'll be able to see their endurance. Can these kids not only do it every once in a while, but what's going to happen when they're a little fatigued? That's when the real players manage to show their best side.”
Soto was one of the Sueño standouts, and it wasn't all about his goal, a dipping, swerving 35-yard blast in the 13th minute that Galaxy goalkeeper Jose Salmeron couldn't smother. Mondelo praised his “passing ability, his vision in the game.”
Holding midfielder Cristian Soto, 17, of Indianapolis, provided a strong foundation and a calming presence. Bryan Argueta, 15, of Gaithersburg, Md., showed off a strong attacking sense and skill in tight space as a withdrawn forward in the second half. Right back Victor Balanzar, 16, of Anaheim, Calif., was a leader on the backline, did well to limit speedy Galaxy striker Blayne Martinez's runs at goal and was dangerous taking set pieces, including a wind-aided 40-yard bullet that sailed just past the upper-left corner in the second half.
Martinez scored the Galaxy goal on a sixth-minute breakaway. Balanzar caught up with him at the finish, but, he explained, “his legs are so long; he did that little chip, and I couldn't get it.” Goalkeeper Heriberto Becerra, 17, of Fontana, Calif., got a piece of the shot but couldn't keep it out of his net.
“I thought that the starting point for this group was better than other years,” Mondelo said. “I thought that they all come with some pretty good individual skills, and it was about getting them to think as a team. ... I [liked] the possession of the ball, the way they moved it, the way they were able to create chances. We were playing against an academy team, and the second half we had them pinned in their half, and that was pretty good.”