CARSON, Calif. – Much was made of Isaac Arellano's path to the national finals of this year's Sueño MLS competition: how he missed the cut at the LA Galaxy's tryouts, then gave it another shot and succeeded when the Chicago Fire held their sessions the following weekend.
It speaks to the determination the 17-year-old defender from Las Vegas, Nevada, possesses, and that's what won over the Sueño MLS coaching staff, led by MLS Director of Player Programs Alfonso Mondelo, when 15 field players and three goalkeepers vied for the top awards in Southern California the past week.
Arellano was not the most skilled player in contention, but his towering effort made it clear he was a player of rare substance. He's now among three players – along with midfielders Miguel Acosta of San Diego and Baltazar Duran of Cicero, Illinois. – hoping his name will be called when the Sueño MLS victor is announced Sunday on Univision's Republica Deportiva.
“Sometimes you're looking for technical ability and all that stuff,” said former US national team and MLS star Eric Wynalda, who served on the Sueño MLS coaching staff. “That's not particularly Isaac's strength. Isaac's strength is the ability to communicate, inspire people around him and to get the job done.
“When you're building a team and you're looking for players, we too many times look at all the technical stuff, but when you see heart and you see a kid that has it, has the determination and willingness to give everything – not for himself, but for his teammates, whom he [in Sueño MLS duties] doesn't even know – you've got to recognize that. His progress in just a couple of days was phenomenal. I'd love to see how far he can take it if he was in a better environment.”
Arellano's galvanizing play at center back, especially in Saturday's victory at StubHub Center's stadium field over an under-17 team affiliated with the Galaxy, was among the highlights of the week – especially as he prodded his exhausted teammates to fight until the final whistle.
“I thought Isaac was the best on the field [in that game],” said former Mexican star Pavel Pardo, another Sueño MLS coach. “He has personality and character, and the best thing you have to have is spirit to play this sport. You have to have character. If you don't have these things, it's impossible to have success.”
Arellano has them, in abundance, and he knows it.
“Ever since I was little, I've loved this sport,” said Arellano, who plays for the Las Vegas Gunners with Johnny Chavarria, who last year prevailed in Sueño MLS. “I give it everything I have, and I never give up. I have a heart, and I know I do, because my heart's a soccer ball, and it keeps on pumping and pumping out more sweat, more energy. I have heart, and that's how it's always going to be for my soccer.”
The staff saw that early in the week, and they appointed Arellano the Sueño MLS captain before the game against LA Galaxy South Bay Navy U-17.
“Pavel told me his eyes lit up [when he was told],” said Wynalda, who missed Saturday's sessions because of a family emergency. “He played like a captain. Some kids crumble with that kind of responsibility, and it's almost your fault as a coach to give it to him, but he embraced it. He really showed his true colors. I'm really proud of him.”
Arellano was ecstatic to take on that responsibility.
“Straight out, it was wonderful to be a captain, a leader out there,” he said. “Just to lead my team to a victory felt really good. It was a dream come true.”
His says his best quality as a defender is “definitely my leadership.”
“And I never stop,” he added. “No matter how much time is left – could be over 90 minutes, could be over extra time – I will never stop. I will never stop until the game's over.”
His skills can be developed, and he'll likely get a chance with the Galaxy's academy, given Los Angeles' relative proximity to Las Vegas, rather than the Fire's.
“Isaac has to improve, of course, technically,” Pardo said. “It's not the best on the team, but he has those other [qualities]. He can improve. He can develop in the future.”