BELL GARDENS, Calif. -- The sun wasn’t the only thing shining on Sunday in Bell Gardens. Several young soccer players showed off their skills as they moved one step closer to their dream.
Leonardo Garcia-Guerra, a 15-year-old midfielder, couldn’t help but smile upon hearing his name called at the close of Sueño MLS’s Los Angeles tryouts, hosted by the LA Galaxy at Bell Gardens Sports Center. He and four other field players will join finalists from Portland and New York next month to compete in the Sueño MLS National Finals at StubHub Center for a spot in their MLS team’s academy.
Also selected as finalists Sunday were 16-year-old defender Juan Marcos Piñon, 15-year-old defender Carlos Amaya, 15-year-old midfielder Minjae Kwak and 14-year-old midfielder Pablo Figueroa. They were chosen from 22 field players who were invited back after Saturday’s opening day.
Goalkeeper Hernan Cortez, 15, was named the LA finalist for El Portero Allstate as the standout among the three goalkeepers invited back after Saturday, and will compete against goalkeepers from both Portland and New York during the finals.
Cortez, from Anaheim, commanded his back line throughout the match, and sprawled out to his left to make a fantastic save on a powerful shot destined for the top right corner of the frame.
His footwork along with his technical and tactical abilities stood out to LA Galaxy II goalkeeper coach Daniel Gonzalez. When asked which MLS netminder Cortez reminded him of, Gonzalez gave the ultimate compliment to a goalkeeper: “Nick Rimando.”
Piñon’s ability to play multiple positions exceeded expectations. Usually a right fullback, the Santa Maria, California native also played on the left side, and took on all comers despite his 5-foot-5 stature.
“We really liked his pace and his field awareness,” remarked Galaxy staff coach Paul Soufl. “More than the other defenders, we thought he had a sense of place on the field.”
Amaya excelled as a center back, frequently thwarting scoring threats and beating forwards to the ball. From Turlock, California, a four-hour drive away, his father Edgar brought him to the event because he “saw a lot of potential in him.” It turns out he was right.
His tenacity on the field stood out. “He just had that grit, and got stuck into tackles,” said Brandon Pittman, Youth Camps and Clinics Coach for the Galaxy. “He wasn’t the biggest kid on the field, but he didn’t shy away from anything.”
Kwak controlled the midfield with his abilities on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The Garden Grove native tried out for the LA Galaxy Academy three years ago, and now has another chance.
“He has really good footwork with the ball,” commented Galaxy Youth Development Coach Juan De Arcos. “He’s a really good teammate because he opens up, and moves without the ball really well.”
A ‘nose for goal’ best describes Figueroa, of Bell Gardens. The hometown teenager scored twice in the first half, cuing big cheers from his family. Constantly a scoring threat and a force in the middle, he took every advantage of the chances he was given.
“He has good pace, good body control, and good touch on the ball,” said Soufl. “He found himself in the right place, and when he had a chance, he didn’t mess it up.”
Garcia-Guerra showed quick pace on the left, and constantly created chances by opening up and starting combination plays. His teammates returned the favor in the second half, finding the Indio, California native unmarked for an easy chip over the goalkeeper.
“He’s quick on and off the ball, and like Pablo [Figueroa], he can finish. He can put the ball in the back of the net,” said Pittman. That’s certainly worth smiling about.
The Sueño MLS National Finals take place May 4-7 at StubHub Center.