CARSON, Calif. – Miguel Acosta made his presence felt from the first session. Baltazar Duran and Isaac Arellano wowed the scouts with their performances in the matches that followed.
They were the standouts in a decent Sueño MLS field in which more than a few players made strong impressions, and were rewarded Sunday with the three finalist slots as their families looked on during a live broadcast on Univision's Republica Deportiva.
Next stop: Miami, where one of them will be crowned winner of the ninth edition of MLS's annual talent search during next week's Republica Deportiva telecast.
Whoever triumphs will join Eduardo Muñoz, who won the Portero Allstate honor as top goalkeeper in Sunday's festivities on the stadium field at StubHub Center.
“This means a lot,” said Arellano, a 17-year-old center back from Las Vegas, Nevada, who emerged from the Chicago Fire's tryouts after making it to the final 25, but no further, during the LA Galaxy's sessions a week earlier. “My dream is coming true, plain and simple.”
He might as well have been speaking for all four of Sunday's victors, who are hoping to gain admission to an MLS Academy and follow a path, first blazed by 2007 winner Jorge Villafaña, to a professional career.
Three of the quartet advanced from the Fire's weekend – Muñoz, 16, of Lafayette, Indiana, and Duran, a 15-year-old midfielder from Cicero, Illinois, in addition to Arellano. Acosta, a 16-year-old midfielder from San Diego, was the top prospect from the Galaxy's tryout.
Muñoz was born in Indiana but lived for eight years in Guadalajara before moving back to his hometown just before the Chicago sessions earlier this month. He proved the sharpest goalkeeper in the two matches, a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA's Under-16 academy team on Thursday evening and a 2-1 triumph Saturday afternoon over the LA Galaxy's South Bay Navy Boys U-17 side.
“He did everything well,” said former Mexico international and Chivas USA goalkeeper Martin Zuniga, who worked with the netminders at every stop. “The most important thing is the way he has distribution with the ball and a great command of his defenders. He's very accurate in every subject for a goalkeeper.”
The Tijuana-born Acosta, who hasn't seen his parents since he was 11 – they're in Mexico, unable to travel north of the border – was a huge presence all week, and his play against Galaxy South Bay confirmed his spot among the final three, especially on a brilliant run past five defenders to set up the second goal.
“Day one, there was something special about Miguel Acosta,” said former US national team and MLS star Eric Wynalda, who was part of the Sueño MLS coaching staff. “He just has an innate ability to get out of trouble and not get into trouble. He definitely has the little things that you watch for in a player.”
Mostly playing out of position as a left back, Duran was the top player in the loss to Chivas USA, pressuring the opposing defense with powerful runs up the left flank.
“It was hard. It's been a while since I've played defender,” Duran said. “But if I can play left midfield, I can play left defender. I put all the work together, and it came out good. It shows hard work does pay off.”
Arellano, the team captain, advanced following a superb outing against Galaxy South Bay, expertly marshaling the backline – especially in the final 20 minutes or so, when the exhausted Sueño MLS players were on their heels, trying to hold off their foe.
“He has personality and character,” said former Mexican national team star Pavel Pardo, also a Sueño MLS coach. “The best thing in soccer you have to have is the spirit to play this sport. You have to have character. If you don't have these things, it's impossible to have success.”
Arellano's “progress in just a couple of days was phenomenal,” Wynalda said. “I'd love to see how far he can take it if he's in a better environment.”