CARSON, Calif. -- The Sueño MLS coaching staff has tough decisions to make after the 18 finalists put in a far better performance in their final match Saturday afternoon, a 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy's South Bay Navy Boys U-17 side on the stadium field at StubHub Center.
Juan Carlos Merino, a 16-year-old midfielder from Long Branch, N.J., scored both Sueño MLS goals, slotting home rebounds in the ninth and 27th minutes of a 90-minute match, as the quality of the group's collective play rose substantially from Thursday's 2-0 loss to Chivas USA's U-16 Academy team.
Alfonso Mondelo (pictured right), who as MLS's director of player programs led the Sueño staff, was quite pleased with the progress and said there were six or seven of the 15 field players in contention for the three Sueño MLS finalist slots that will be announced Sunday afternoon on Univision's Republica Deportiva. The winner will be revealed on the following week's telecast.
“There's an improvement in just a couple of days, in the attitude, in the way they used the field, the overall performance,” Mondelo said. “I think the nerves got out a little bit in the game against Chivas, but for today we had a couple more sessions and were able to organize them a little bit better, and I thought the kids responded pretty well.
“They came in, they got a couple of goals, their confidence went up a little bit. They were a little sloppy at the beginning of the second half, giving up a goal [to Cameron Nelson just 19 seconds after kickoff], and late in the game they were physically not there -- these kids aren't used to four or five sessions in a period of four days; there were a lot of demands on them -- but I thought they responded pretty well and some of them showed their capability and the talent that they have.”
Saturday's standouts included 16-year-old midfielder Miguel Acosta of San Diego, who caused a lot of havoc on the left flank in the first half and set up Merino's second goal with a weaving run past five defenders and a shot off the left post, and 17-year-old defender Isaac Arellano of Las Vegas, Nev. (pictured right), who expertly marshaled the Sueño MLS backline.
“Miguel Acosta played really well in the first half,” said former Mexico national team star Pavel Pardo, one of the Sueño coaches. “One against one, I liked it. That move [on the goal] was nice.”
Mondelo called Arellano, who advanced out of the Chicago Fire's tryouts after making it to the second day of the LA Galaxy's sessions a week earlier, “a beast.”
“He cut everything off,” Mondelo said. “He's a little limited in his technical ability, but, man, this kid has a heart. This is a kid you want in your team, because he's going to battle for you the whole game long.”
Also faring well were 14-year-old midfielder Arturo Ernand of Kendall, Fla., whose day was cut short by a leg injury; 16-year-old midfielder Jose Vasquez of Frisco, Texas, who played at center back; and 16-year-old midfielder Brian Herrera of Santa Ana, Calif., who kept the ball moving through midfield.
Eduardo Muñoz, 16, of Lafayette, Ind., got the most time among the three contenders for the Portero Allstate goalkeeping honor, which will be announced Sunday on Republica Deportiva, and looked good while playing the entire first half.
Merino, who was playing at forward, provided a lead after Galaxy South Bay goalkeeper Matt Sonnenblick parried a Baltazar Duran free kick, firing across the goalmouth and into the right side of the net. His goal after Acosta's run was simpler.
“The only think I did was move off the ball,” Merino said. “I had no one marking me, and I just tapped it in twice.”
Luis Arreola, 16, of Wheeling, Ill., wasn't able to play after suffering a concussion and two orbital fractures below his right eye in Thursday's game, but he did enough in the first two days of camp to warrant consideration, Mondelo said.
“He's a kid we were really high on, [but] we weren't able to see much of him,” Mondelo said. “We would have loved to see him in this game. I think he probably would have been a difference-maker, because we lacked a little bit of punch up top, and I think he could have provided that for us.”
Arreola, who has had some opportunity already with the Chicago Fire's Academy, was in good spirits nonetheless, noting that injuries like his are “just part of the game” and promising to stay positive.
“Coming back from this injury is going to tell how I am as a person and really define what I am as a soccer player, if I'm going to make it or break it,” he said. “So if the coaches thought [I was good], then that's amazing, and I know I have potential for great things in the future. Mishaps are going to happen, that's part of life.”