CARSON, Calif. -- If Eduardo Muñoz had his way, he never would have taken part in Sueño MLS's goalkeeping competition. He'd still be in Guadalajara, playing in Chivas de Guadalajara's academy system.
The 16-year-old goalkeeper had no say in his mother's decision to move back to Indiana, where he was born, and so he's having to “start from zero,” he says.
Perhaps not. Muñoz wowed the scouts at the Chicago Fire's Sueño MLS tryouts a couple of weeks ago and won over the coaching staff this past week in Southern California, and Sunday he was presented with the Portero Allstate award as the annual talent search's top netminder.
His ability to make big plays and superior distribution, by hand or foot, pushed him past Luis Zamudio of Las Vegas, Nev., and Thomas Bosley of Ponta Vedra, Fla., in a decision announced Sunday at StubHub Center and on Univision's Republica Deportiva.
It meant plenty to Muñoz, who called it “a day I'm going to remember for a lot of years, for my whole life.”
He'd just rather be in Guadalajara.
“I wanted to stay in Mexico,” said Muñoz, who moved to Lafayette, Ind., just three weeks ago. “I wanted to stay playing for Chivas, but I didn't have the opportunity, and my mom didn't want to leave me in Mexico alone, so I had to come with her here to the USA. I want to start a new career here in the USA, so I came here, and, fortunately, I won.”
He was outstanding throughout four days of training and matches, performing particularly well while conceding no goals in 70 minutes against Chivas USA's Under-16 academy team and a U-17 team affiliated with the LA Galaxy.
“The truth is he did everything very well,” said former Mexican international and Chivas USA goalkeeper Martin Zuniga, who coaches and scouts netminders throughout the Sueño MLS process. “The most important for Pavel Pardo, Professor [Alfonso] Mondelo and me is the way he has distribution with the ball and a great command of his defenders. Mostly the dynamic to distribute the ball. He has a great kick, and great reflexes. ...
“It isn't just one thing, it's a few. All the components.”
Muñoz's performances in the matches were impeccable, but, he asserts, games are merely an extension of training.
“The most important thing is the practice,” Muñoz said. “Practice well, because that's where you demonstrate what you're capable of. In a game, you just do what you practice. If you practice well, you're going to play well.”
Muñoz was born in Lafayette, then moved to Mexico when he was eight. Most of his family is in Indiana, and his mother, Lorena Diaz, “was alone and didn't have money,” he said, “so she came here to work and have a better life.”
His father, Jaime Muñoz, is serving a prison sentence in California, and he saw something on television about Sueño MLS and tipped off his son, who signed up for the Fire's tryouts before leaving Guadalajara.
“I was like: If I'm going to the USA, I have to have the opportunity,” Muñoz said. “I have a good opportunity with Chivas, but I can't stay [there], so I came here, I tried out, I won.”
That will provide an opportunity to win a spot in Chicago's academy and find a path similar to that he was following with Chivas. He hopes his father, whom he speaks with but hasn't seen in four years, can again watch him play one day.
His mother visited his father while in California for the Sueño competition, but Eduardo was unable to accompany her because of the program's requirements.
“He's the one who put me in soccer,” Muñoz said. “He's supported me a lot, he used to be at all of my games. Now he's not at my games, so it's hard. ... I wish he could be here, but, unfortunately, he can't. I know he's watching this [on Univision]. I know he's happy. He's probably crying. I love him.”