CHIVAS: Local quintet to 'Sueño' finals
BELL GARDENS -- Alejandro Nuñez didn't know he was trying out until the day before -- it was a present from his parents. Armando Flores was stuck on the waiting list, praying he'd hear his name.
Both were among a half-dozen young hopefuls rewarded for their performance over the weekend during Chivas USA's trials for Major League Soccer's “Sueño MLS” talent search.
Nuñez, Suarez, three other players from Southern California and another from Nevada will join a dozen more players from FC Dallas' and the Seattle Sounders' tryouts at the national finals, which begin next week at Home Depot Center leading to the May 13 finale on Univision's “Deportivo Republica.” The six chosen by Chivas USA Academy coaches:
- Jimmy Camacho (Riverside), 16, a wild-haired goalkeeper from Riverside who plays at Laguna Niguel Soccer Club -- he was on his way to a game right after -- and starred as Citrus Hill High School won a CIF Southern Section title in two finals appearances.
- Flores (Santa Ana), 17, a forward for Mission Viejo Soccer Club who has been an All-CIF Southern Section selection the past two seasons at Santa Ana Valley High School.
- Mauricio Gutierrez (Los Angeles), 16, a defender from Locke High School who plays for Willowbrook-based club Cosmos.
- Nuñez (Sylmar), 17, a defender from Granada Hills Charter High School who plays for International FC.
- Oscar Velazquez (Las Vegas, Nev.), 16, a defender from Vegas United Soccer Club.
- George Zuniga (Carson), 16, a defender who played for a club his father started and at Firebaugh High School in Lynwood after starting at Warren High in Downey.
The dream is an opportunity for a professional career -- just like Chivas USA's Jorge Villafaña, who was discovered at the first “Sueño MLS” six years ago -- but the top prize, a spot within his club's academy, isn't quite so exclusive.
All six Chivas finalists, regardless of how they fare in the final event, figure to train with the Goats' academy. So, too, several among the 30 players who advanced to Sunday's second day at the Bell Gardens Sports Complex out of about 500 players who got a look Saturday.
“Most of the guys are going to come back and train with our U-16s or U-18s. We already promised them,” said Chivas Academy assistant coach Jose Esparza, who ran the tryout. His message for the players:. “The dream never ends. ... This is saying, 'You know what? I'm actually pretty good.' Continue working, you have a taste of what it takes to be at the professional level -- or one step from being at the professional level -- so just continue working. This should be a step forward.”
Chivas finalists included players from Minnesota, New York, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and up and down California -- from San Marcos, in San Diego County, to Watsonville, about halfway from Salinas to Santa Cruz.
“There were a lot of good players,” Nuñez said. “I feel bad for them. They came out here and gave their all.”
“It feels great,” Camacho said, “but there's two other keepers [from the final day] and a lot of other keepers who didn't make this cut, and I felt they should have made the cut. They could have been here as well as I am. There's a lot of great players out here. A lot of kids who scored a lot of great goals on me. I was definitely impressed with the talent out here.”
Esparza said the scouts were excited by the defensive talent -- no defenders emerged from FC Dallas' and Seattle's tryouts, but Chivas could put together a full backline with its group.
“They organized well, they knew how to play out of the back,” Esparza said. “They were consistent, and it was tough for forwards to go forward. They kept the pressure on, they knew when to back out and when to step in. ... There was a lot of good talent [in the tryout]. Being in L.A., that's where the talent's at. We went back and forth.”
Nuñez found out Friday night that he was taking part.
“My parents told me,” he said. “They were like, 'Oh, you got tryouts tomorrow.' I'm just like, 'What? When did this happen?' I'm glad I came out here, proved myself, and I'm glad I made it.”
Flores wasn't sure he'd get the chance to show what he could do.
“I came here, I saw a lot of people, and I just waited in line on the waiting list, hopeful my name would be called,” he said. “Fortunately, it was. I just played my heart out, and it came out good.”
Nobody was happier than Zuniga, a solidly built defender who impressed with his organizational skills.
“My whole family goes for Chivas,” he said. “I go to the games, and I'm part of the banda. It's an honor to win this.”
The Dallas finalists are goalkeeper Livian Aguirre, 14 (Brownsville, Texas); midfielders Pedro Ocampo, 17 (Sterling, Ill.), and Alfredo Vasquez, 17 (Athens, Texas); and forwards Jose Hernandez, 16 (Dallas), Jose Romero, 17 (Athens, Texas), and Tony Santibanez, 17 (Plano, Texas).
The Seattle finalists are goalkeeper Hector Palos, 17 (Philadelphia); midfielder Jose Ramos, 15 (Tacoma, Wash.); and forwards Herbert Cojulun, 17 (Casey, S.C.), Ivan Marmolejo, 17 (Orondo, Wash.), Luis Alvaro Osornio, 17 (Federal Way, Wash.), and Giovanny Soto, 15 (Wenatchee, Wash.).
More than 1,000 players were whittled to 30 for Sunday's sessions. Here are the local finalists who did not advance to the national competition (with ages, hometowns and schools):
D Diego Arellano, 17 (Los Angeles/Bravo HS)
F Jose Contreras, 15 (Los Angeles/Ouchi HS)
M Kevin Diaz, 16 (Paramount/Paramount HS)
F Yazi Hernandez, 16 (Fullerton/Fullerton HS)
F Mario Fernando Herrera, 17 (Hesperia/Sultana HS)
M Felipe Jaime, 17 (Los Angeles/Manual Arts HS)
D Ricardo Madrigal, 16 (Fontana/Fontana HS)
G Alexis Garcia Nuñez, 16 (Canoga Park/Canoga Park HS)
D Richard Perez, 17 (Los Angeles/Bernstein HS)
F Jonathan Rangel, 17 (Long Beach/Lakewood HS)
D Kevin Reyes, 14 (Santa Ana/Irvine Middle School)