BELL GARDENS, Calif. – Brian Herrera was certain he wouldn't make the cut. Luis Zamudio figured a rival's performance trumped whatever he'd accomplished.
Both were delightfully surprised to hear their names called Sunday afternoon at the close of Sueño MLS's Southern California tryouts at Bell Gardens Sports Center, among six LA Galaxy selections to compete at the national finals of Major League Soccer's annual talent search later this month.
Herrera, a 16-year-old midfielder from Santa Ana, California, was one of five field players who will join finalists from Orlando, Florida, and Chicago on the Bell Gardens fields on May 26-31. Zamudio, also 16 and from Las Vegas, Nevada, will battle two other goalkeepers for the Portero Allstate honor.
Herrera was one of three Orange County products to advance from the Galaxy's two-day session, along with two 14-year-olds, midfielder Ariel Gracida from Garden Grove and defender Odet Rodriguez from La Habra.
Midfielder Miguel Acosta, 16, from San Diego, and forward Hamid Babaali, 16, from Los Angeles, also advanced from the group of 22 field players and three netminders invited back following Saturday's opening day.
“It was highly competitive, it really was,” said Chris Howe, the Galaxy's coordinator of youth development. “The game that we played to finish [the weekend], the determination the players showed was absolutely outstanding. You could really sense the players were pushing themselves and how hard they wanted to win.”
Herrera (pictured at right) wasn't pleased with his performance in the first half of a 60-minute scrimmage, then started looking for the ball in the second half and punctuated his outing with a 35-yard lob over the goalkeeper.
“The only chance was to shoot it, so I just shot it,” he said. “I was really nervous today, but I gave everything I had. I didn't think I was going to make it.”
As it turned out, he was a slam dunk.
“In terms of technical ability, he was right up there,” Howe said. “Possibly the best kid we've seen in this competition over the weekend. He was very smooth on the ball, he had so much control, he could deal with situations if a difficult ball came into him. He was always able to manage the situations that he was put in.”
Zamudio, too, was a clear No. 1 in the scouts' eyes, but he thought the goalkeeper honor would go to Gabino Ruiz, 16, of San Bernardino, California. Ruiz saved a penalty kick and did well to come off his line to cut off a dangerous ball late in the scrimmage.
“He's legit,” Galaxy staff coach Paul Soufl said of the 6-foot-4 Zamudio. “That guy's going to be a player.”
Rodriguez, an eighth-grader who normally plays outside back with his club team, shined in central defense and, said Galaxy II forward Travis Bowen, who served as a scout, “played like a man.”
“We really liked him because he's young and he can still be trained,” Soufl said. “Sometimes his positioning wasn't great, but we could tell he hadn't had a lot of coaching, but he had a lot of natural talent. He's someone we can work with.”
Gracida's calm demeanor in central midfield impressed everyone.
“He really controlled the tempo of the game,” Soufl said. “That's one of those intangible qualities we look for.”
Babaali, who was born in Brazil, was a terror up front, and he scored a last-minute equalizer in the 2-2 draw. Soufl called him “a bowling ball, a little wrecking ball,” and Bowen called him “a man-child.”
“In terms of physical strength and attitude and determination, he was absolute raw power,” Howe said. “Every time the ball went forward or the ball was at his feet, he was a threat.”
Acosta (pictured at right), who was born in Mexico and has lived north of the border only six years, was a force Sunday, and his long run through midfield set up Babaali's strike. Howe liked that he “had a couple different dimensions,” and Bowen compared him to Arturo Vidal, Juventus' Chilean star, noting “you can build a team around him.”
Said Soufl: “That guy was just a beast. The best player on the field.”