PORTLAND, Ore. – They competed against some of the best and brightest in the Portland area. Now, six are off to Los Angeles to prove they are North American soccer’s next big thing.
Sueño MLS wrapped up its first-ever tryouts in Portland on Sunday, selecting one goalkeeper and five field players to move to the final round in Southern California.
Scouting the players were members of the Timbers organization, including youth technical director Larry Sunderland and Ryan Miller, Timbers Academy coach. Timbers winger Dairon Asprilla was on hand to offer words of encouragement to the young players. (Defender Alvas Powell was scheduled to appear, but had to cancel due to his recent wrist surgery.)
Only one young Sueño MLS player will earn the top prize, a spot with an MLS club academy team and the title of Sueño MLS winner, which will go down in history alongside players like Jorge Villafaña, who won Sueño MLS in 2007 and won the MLS Cup with the Timbers last year. But the competition also helped the Timbers Academy scout some new faces they otherwise might not have seen and could have room for in their academy program, Miller said.
“There are kids here we know and have seen and are part of the other programs, but I’d say 80 percent of these kids we haven’t seen before,” he said. “With the Sueño MLS event, not only does the winner get something out of it, but I think there are other kids that won out in this event as well.”
Here is a rundown of the six finalists who now advance to the final round of Sueño MLS competition:
Antonio Campos, goalkeeper – Campos, 16, proved himself to be ahead of the competition’s two other goalkeepers in the final scrimmage, blocking a free kick and saving a penalty kick.
“It was his ability to manage the box – he really commanded things back there,” Sunderland said. “He came out and broke up plays, got off his line quickly and seemed to be the most mature.”
Campos, from Hermiston, Oregon, said his name being called as a finalist took him by surprise because the other goalkeepers competing impressed him as well.
“I’ve been training hard for this and I felt like I had a chance, so I knew I had to come here and play best,” he said. “The other goalies were great and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.”
Salvador Perez, right back – Perez plays soccer in his hometown of Woodburn, Oregon, and impressed coaches with his communication along the back line.
“He’s very intelligent in his timing of tackles, when to step, and communication amongst other players,” Miller said. “He got involved in the game at the right times. We really liked his toughness and his ability to read the game.”
The 15-year-old said he had been working hard to show well during the Sueño MLS competition.
“This was unique and very special,” he said.
Arturo Gonzalez-Vazquez, striker – Hailing from Portland proper, Gonzalez-Vazquez admitted he felt he was capable of more than he showed scouts over the weekend, but the Timbers Academy coaching staff still liked what they saw in the 15-year-old.
“Arturo was quite technical in the middle of the park and he found very good pockets,” Sunderland said. “You could see him always scanning and getting in positions where he had a calming influence on the game. He was kind of a general, not so much in the verbal way, but he got into good spots and commanded the game there, pulled a lot of strings.”
Gonzalez-Vazquez said his approach to the attack was to aim for smart, purposeful possession.
“I try to keep control of the ball instead of just launching it forward and dispossessing it,” he said.
Andres Labate, center defensive midfielder – The 14-year-old came in with his share of nerves, he admitted, but he had been looking forward to the competition and was eager to show the scouts what he could do.
“He was very technical. He wanted the ball all the time and struck a very good ball when he was striking to goal,” Miller said. “He got his other teammates very involved as well, as far as going east to west, and picking the right times to attack as well.”
He did well shoring up the middle of the park and assisting in distributing the ball around the pitch. Now, the Salem-area player is ready to show more of that in Los Angeles.
“I’m going to work hard and try to make it to the end,” he said. “I’m really excited and ready to go.”
Alan Gaytan, striker – Coming in from Troutdale, Oregon, Gaytan made a clear impact on the pitch, scoring two goals in the final scrimmage of tryouts and earning high praise from scouts.
“He got on the end of a lot balls and scored a lot of goals,” Sunderland said. “Physically he was a bit different as well; he was able to outrun people and strength-wise he was able to bounce people off himself. But he had a very good left foot and a unique ability to score goals.”
Like many of the kids at Providence Park, the 15-year-old Gaytan said it took him some time to get going and show his abilities.
“At first I was iffy, but then I got better as time went on,” he said.
Jonathan Reynoso, attacking midfielder – Reynoso, from Madras, Oregon, is a versatile player who featured throughout the competition at left wing, center midfield and even a bit of right back. But it was his attacking vision that impressed scouts the most.
“He’s technical and was very aggressive in taking defenders on,” Miller said. “He had success and set up a couple goals.”
Playing at the home of defending MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers was a different experience for the 16-year-old, but he quickly found his footing.
“It just felt great,” he said. “I’ve never played in an actual stadium, but I just focused on playing football.”
Up next, these six finalists will join finalists from two other cities to the National Finals in Los Angeles from May 4-7, where one winner will be named.