PORTLAND, Ore.—The day started by joining an expected 400 kids in a park to play soccer, and ended standing in Providence Park being interviewed by a host for Univision TV.
For 15-year-old Alan Gaytan, who entered this year's Sueño MLS competition in Portland, it was at first more nerve-racking than anything. Competing for a potential MLS academy club contract isn’t a frequent opportunity, but Gaytan knew whatever butterflies he felt couldn’t get in the way.
“At first I was iffy but then I got better as time went on,” Gaytan said. “I got nervous right when we started, but I was going to give it all I had.”
After a two-day tryout in front of the Portland Timbers' coaching staff this weekend, Gaytan was named one of the six finalists who will be flown to Los Angeles for the final round of Sueño MLS. Gaytan made a big impression on scouts from the Timbers organization, including youth technical director Larry Sunderland and Timbers Academy coach Ryan Miller.
“Alan stood out and I believe there will be a spot found for him whether he wins the final or not,” Miller said. “The Sueño MLS event was absolutely fantastic for us as an academy staff because 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.”
Gaytan, a striker from Reynolds High School east of Portland, was one of those kids who was new to scouts but left the two-day tryout as a top prospect.
So where did his passion for soccer come from? His father, Jesús, can only take partial credit.
“I started him on it a little bit, but every time Portland plays he’s got the game on,” Jesús Gaytan said, laughing. “He’s like in love with soccer. He watches the games all the time, especially the Portland Timbers.”
Though the Timbers are his favorite team, along with Barcelona, his favorite player and the striker he wants to emulate is the legendary Lionel Messi from Argentina. Gaytan, who is from Troutdale, Oregon, hopes his quickness and dribbling skills can one day match his idol.
Asked when he channels his inner-Messi, Gaytan said: “When I’m going down the sideline, since he’s lefty and I’m a lefty too, I just cut in and dribble and do my thing.”
Sure enough, Timbers scouts saw something they liked in Gaytan, who scored twice in the final scrimmage of the competition.
“Alan, we felt was the one difference-maker out here both days,” Sunderland said. “In the end the game’s about scoring goals and he got on the end of a lot of balls and brought other people in the game. But he also showed the ability to change the game himself by just getting at people, outrunning people, outmuscling people and then when he got around to goal, he was pretty clinical with his finishing.”
If Gaytan does earn an MLS academy contract, he could follow in the footsteps of Jorge Villafaña, who won the MLS Cup with the Timbers last year. Villafaña won Sueño MLS in 2007 and went from Chivas USA's academy team to their first team before being acquired by the Timbers in 2014.
Gaytan’s dream, he said, is going pro, and he got a taste of what it might feel like after being named as a finalist. He was interviewed for the TV network Univsion along with his dad Jesús, mother Yolanda and his little sister Meleny, who also watched from the stands of Providence Park during his tryout.
Whoever wins the Sueño MLS National Finals in Los Angeles will be announced live on República Deportiva on May 22. But first, finalists from Portland, Los Angeles and New York will compete in the final round in Southern California from May 4-7.
Gaytan will have to gear up for that – six finalists from LA were named last week and New York’s crop of finalists will be named next weekend – but for now, he and his family are just enjoying the moment.
“It’s a lot a competition here so to hear his name called, it’s hard to explain the feeling. It almost gave me a heart attack,” Jesús Gaytan said. “We’re so excited for him.”