In 2007, Jorge Flores was an unknown 17-year-old playing his high school soccer in Anaheim, California.
Soon, though, his name would be known throughout MLS after he beat out around 2,000 competitors to win Sueño MLS, earning a tryout with Chivas USA’s U19 team.
Five years later, young players all around the Seattle area will have the same opportunity with the 2012 edition of Sueño MLS on April 21 and 22 at Starfire when the Sounders host their leg of the national competition.
Among the scouts who will select players from the Seattle competition will be Sounders FC director of youth development Darren Sawatzky. A product of Federal Way’s Thomas Jefferson High School and former USL Sounder, he has been through the rigors of becoming a professional soccer player and has seen the progress of the systems in place.
“When I was a kid, there wasn’t an MLS team in the area. To have an MLS team where upwards of 40,000 people come to watch every weekend, it’s built a phenomenon,” he said. “The opportunity for teenage kids to get a chance to be in front of the guys that select professional players is unbelievable. These kids are so lucky.”
In the two-day tryout, the hundreds of youth players from around the state between the ages of 14 and 18 will be put through a rapid process to determine who advances to the national final in Los Angeles in May.
In the first day, the players will be reduced to a group of up to 30 that will come back for the second day.
Then, six more will be selected to represent Seattle, joining the players who participate in similar tryouts with FC Dallas and Chivas USA in the national final.
With such a limited time to evaluate players, the pressure is on for the talent as well as the scouts. So Sawatzky and his partners will have to make quick decisions.
“The first thing to stick out is physical attributes – big, strong or fast. But as you get into the soccer part of it, you’re looking for kids that are technically proficient in tight areas,” Sawatzky said. “Their speed of thought – how far ahead do they think within the game, which is a tough thing because American kids aren’t in that environment every day. But with the advent of the academies, it’s getting faster and faster. The best kids differentiate themselves fairly quickly.”
Sawatzky has seen first-hand how much the academies have helped in that development while overseeing Seattle’s academy system, which started fielding teams last year.
His whiteboard filled with depth charts of the U18, U16 and Pre-Academy teams, as well as lists of players in younger age groups that have already been identified is testament to the extensive work he’s done to ensure that he has found the best talent in the area.
All of which is done to help bring the players along in the best environment possible to prepare them to be professional soccer players.
Flores, who has since changed his last name to Villafaña to honor his mother, scored three goals in 2008 and is now in his sixth season in MLS, starting 24 times last year for Chivas USA.
Another product of Sueño MLS, Gabriel Funes Mori, is playing with River Plate in Argentina and several more winners of the yearly competition are now playing with MLS Youth Academy teams.
While the competition will be shown on Univision’s Republica Deportiva, the registration is not limited to Hispanic athletes. The final will be held over the course of five days, with the winner announced live on May 13 on Univision.