BELL GARDENS, Calif. -- If Sueño MLS has a home, it's here in Southern California, and there's good reason it returns year after year.
This is the seventh time in nine editions that Major League Soccer's annual talent search has included Los Angeles among the sites -- this is the fourth time the LA Galaxy have been involved, and Chivas USA took part three times before their demise -- and the finals, three weeks hence, will again take place at Bell Gardens Sports Center.
There's just so much talent, especially Latino players, among SoCal's 20 million residents, and more from elsewhere -- Northern California, the Central Valley, Las Vegas, Utah and New Mexico, even El Paso, Texas -- make the trip to try to impress Galaxy scouts.
“Every year we get an amazing turnout,” said Nadine Osong, who organizes Sueño MLS as part of her duties with the MLS partnership marketing department. “We always know what we can expect in LA. We know we're going to get lots of kids, lots of talented kids, that want to be part of the Galaxy Academy.”
Some 700 signed up for the waiting list after all 396 roster spots were filled, and a good number of them made it into one of Saturday's 18 hour-long games. Figuring out who will make the cut for Sunday's play, which will send five field players and a goalkeeper to the national finals, isn't easy. There are just so many players capable of catching the eye.
With the Galaxy II's USL game this weekend in Oklahoma City on hold because of tornado warnings, forward Travis Bowen and defender Bradley Diallo joined the club's scouting crew, which is something of a boon for the youngsters.
“I advise them we're going through the same thing,” Bowen said. “Every day I go to practice, I'm being evaluated. I just give them that sense of calm. I'm talking to them as a coach, but I'm also talking to them as a player, letting them know that I go through the same thing and to give them that confidence to remain calm and show their quality.”
There's a lot of quality on the Bell Gardens fields, including two national finalists from last year, 17-year-old midfielders Luis Garcia, from Castaic, Calif., and Luis Loera, from Albuquerque. Garcia has trained in the Galaxy's Academy and has an invitation to train again in June. Loera last year advanced from the Colorado Rapids' tryout.
“I think I had a very good advantage from being a finalist last year,” Loera said. “I know what I'm facing, and I know I can do it. We'll see what happens. I think there's more competition here, but we'll see what happens.”
The level of play at the LA tryouts is pretty consistent year to year, said Galaxy staff coach Paul Soufl, and there's talent at every position, more or less.
“More than not, everybody seems to want to play midfield and have the ball at their feet and dance around a little bit, so it is harder to find defenders,” Soufl said. “So if any kids want to make a name for themselves as a defender, it would be welcome news for us.”
Diallo, a Frenchman, said he was surprised by the level of talent.
“Some players, they're young, but they play mature, they have good technique,” he said. “Some of them could be ready for the Academy, some need some work, but definitely we have some talent in each position.”
Most difficult, Soufl said, was assessing how great coaching might help these players over the next year -- and whether they might fit into the Galaxy Academy.
“We find ourselves saying, 'This kid is better than that kid out here,' and we'll argue for, like, 10 minutes, and then we're like, 'Wait a minute, could any of them actually play for the Academy?'” Soufl said. “Because the Academy is very, very good now. High-level kids. It is becoming more difficult for kids to fit into the Academy. ...
“Every kid's got one or two things that's keeping them from being a good player: their tackling or their ability to head the ball or their field vision or their shot. It's hard, and we have to kick ourselves every now and again. You're not going to find the perfect player. A lot of these kids have not had the coaching and have not played at a higher level. Could they fix that one thing if they had a good coach for a year? That's the hard part.”
Bowen has some advice in this realm.
“For some of these players, this is the first time they're being picked apart and evaluated by a professional team of coaches,” he said. “I would say the main thing is do what you're good at, and let the coaches find out later what you're not good at.”