Jonathan Kaplan / Houston Dynamo

Sueño MLS: The Dream Continues

The Spanish word for dream is sueño. This past weekend, 400 kids showed up at Houston’s USA Park with one dream in mind: to earn the opportunity to pursue a career as a professional soccer player.

Sueño MLS 2010, built by The Home Depot, kicked off this weekend with tryouts in Houston, the first of three cities. Beginning on April 18, portions of the tryouts will air on the popular Univision Spanish-language sports show República Deportiva, with the winner - earning a spot in an MLS developmental academy - to be crowned in Los Angeles on May 9.

Ranging in age from 14 to 18, participants came from as far as Florida and Maryland for a chance to impress coaches from the Dynamo Academy.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said John DeWitt, an assistant coach with the Dynamo Academy.  “When you have an open tryout like this, you get kids who range from very good to not-so-good.”

DeWitt said the goal of a program such as Sueño MLS is to find players that, for whatever reason, have not had the chance to showcase their skills.

“This reminds us that there are different ways to find players, and it definitely motivates us to work harder to find that diamond in the rough,” DeWitt said.  He added that the coaches were pleasantly surprised with the standard of play, and he felt confident they identified some strong players.

One player that DeWitt spoke highly of was Eric Martinez, a freshman at Spring Dekaney High School, just north of Houston. By the end of the first two days of tryouts, Martinez was one of the 10 finalists who earned the opportunity to train this coming week with the Dynamo Academy. At the end of the week, five players will be chosen to compete in the finals in Los Angeles.

“Eric is a dynamic, confident player,” DeWitt said.  “He has the type of personality we are looking for on the field. He is not afraid to take players on, and he makes something happen every time he has the ball.”

Last year, Martinez was selected for the Olympic Developmental Program, but did not have the financial resources to go compete. He was selected again this year and will travel to Alabama this summer to participate in the ODP Region III camp. Martinez believed his ODP tryouts gave him more confidence heading into this weekend.

“ODP has taught me better training,” he said.  “I was not nervous, and I just knew I had to fight for every ball to impress the coaches.”

Martinez hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jorge Flores and Gabriel Funes, previous winners of Sueño MLS. Flores, the 2007 winner, is now a member of Chivas USA’s senior roster and competed for the United States U-20 national team - with the Dynamo's Danny Cruz - at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup. Funes, the 2008 winner, currently plays for the Argentine first division club River Plate.

The success of past winners has helped the program grow, and Andres Johnson, a producer for República Deportiva, is still amazed at how much Sueño MLS has grown in the past four years.

“It started with just one city, and now we have three cities and more and more kids turning out,” Johnson said.

Because Sueño MLS is only a small portion of the República Deportiva show, Johnson said it is tough to tell if ratings are higher now than they were four years ago, but Univision's coverage has grown from a small clip covering the tryouts to roughly 6-7 minutes of a show for each tryout.

“We have always had a good relationship with MLS,” Johnson said.  “As long as they continue giving us a product to cover, we are happy to provide the coverage.”

One man with particular interest in the tryouts was Francisco Navas Cobo, a recently signed midfielder for the Houston Dynamo. Although Navas Cobo played much of his youth soccer in Colombia, he returned to Houston seven months ago to join the Dynamo Academy, which helped him catch the eye of Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear and eventually earn a first-team contract last month.

“I had the opportunity to speak with the players yesterday and again today,” Navas Cobo said.  “I told them if they want to achieve their goals, they have to work hard and train every day.”

Navas Cobo saw much of himself in the players at the tryout.  It was not long ago he was a wide-eyed boy, trying to impress coaches to earn his shot. Martinez and the nine others selected hope that their dream will not end this week. They hope that one month from now, they will be crowned the next winner of Sueño MLS and one day they, like Navas Cobo, will have the opportunity to share their success story and impart words of wisdom to future soccer players.

Name

Position

Age

Hometown

Nelson Castro

Center Def.

14

Houston, TX

Carlos Castillo

Left Mid.

15

Brownsville, TX

Juan Contreras

Left Mid.

16

Dickinson, TX

Jesus Cruz

Left Def.

15

Dallas, TX

Ronald Garcia

Forward

17

Royal Palm Beach, FL

Anthony Hall

Goalkeeper

15

Dallas, TX

Eric Martinez

Forward

15

Houston, TX

Marco Ortiz

Center Mid.

15

Crowley, TX

Everardo Reyes

Center Def.

15

Houston, TX

Lorenzo Salazar

Center Mid.

15

Houston, TX