Sueño MLS: Tenacious Carlos Amaya overcomes size concerns en route to final

For years, Carlos Amaya has modeled his game after Carles Puyol.

The 15-year-old defender from Turlock, California, who was named a finalist for Sueño MLS 2016 on Sunday, watches highlights of the retired FC Barcelona and Spain center back before all of his matches. He finds inspiration in the YouTube clips, and tries to bring Puyol’s leadership, defensive commitment and composure on the ball into his own game.

For Amaya, mimicking Puyol on the field is intentional.

But copying the legendary defender’s famously ragged curly locks? That was more of a happy accident.

“I started growing it out and I noticed that it was curly just like his,” said Amaya, who sports a shorter version of the long hairstyle Puyol (pictured below) wore throughout his career. “I was surprised, but that’s why I started growing it a little more.”

Amaya has certainly channeled his idol during Sueño. He’s excelled in the national talent competition, advancing out of the LA Galaxy-hosted tryouts in April before impressing again in the national tryouts earlier this month to be named one of three finalists. He’ll find out if he won the competition – and netted the MLS academy invite that comes with the title – live on Univision Deportes’ Republica Deportiva this coming Sunday (3 pm ET).

Only 5-foot-5, Amaya is a bit small for a center back. That doesn’t seem to affect him on the field, however, where Amaya prides himself on his physicality in defense.

“I’m not really a big guy, I’m 5-5, but I’m very physical,” he said.

“To me, I love playing against big, strong players," he continued. "Other players might be scared, but for me I get excited because I love bodying up and just challenging them.”

Scouts at the initial LA tryout certainly noticed Amaya’s aggressive defensive nature, praising him for his tenacious tackling, strength and solid positioning. His ability in possession also stood out, with Galaxy youth development coach Juan de Arcos telling MLSsoccer.com last month that Amaya “was very smooth with the ball” in the first stage of the competition.

Amaya, who was born in El Salvador but moved to Turlock with his parents when he was six, made a pretty serious journey just to participate in Sueño. He and his father, Edgar, drove over 300 miles from their Northern California home to Carson, California to participate in the first round of tryouts.

That distance would present a bit of a conundrum should Amaya win Sueño. Because he advanced out of the Galaxy tryout, he’d presumably be invited to join the LA academy if wins the competition. Commuting from Turlock to LA for academy training sessions and games would be a bit much, however, so Amaya is considering a move to Southern California if he’s invited to the Galaxy academy.

But that’s a concern for another day. For now, Amaya is enjoying simply being a finalist – and imagining what it’d be like to hear his name called on Sunday night.

“Winning would mean a lot to me. It would probably be the best thing that’s happened to me,” he said. “I would be really happy if that happened.”