This past April, 400 youth soccer players attended the Sueño MLS tryout at Houston’s USA Park, hoping to impress the Dynamo coaches and earn an invitation to join the Dynamo Academy. Of the 400 players who tried out, Nelson Castro (Eastwood Academy) and Lorenzo Salazar (Houston Austin) were two of the five Houston players selected to compete in the finals of the competition in Los Angeles, and both are now regular contributors on the Dynamo Academy U-16 squad.
Nine months ago, Castro never imagined he would make it through the initial tryout, but he wound up as the eventual Sueño MLS winner. The then-14-year old Houston native had trained with the Dynamo Junior Academy previously but also played for the Houstonians Soccer Club.
“My expectations were not very high,” Castro said of the competition. “I just tried my best, though, and hoped things would work out for me. As a defender, it’s not as easy to get noticed by the coaches, but I knew I had to go in hard for every tackle and win every 50-50 ball if I wanted to get recognized. My goal was to play hard, simple, and do my best.”
Dynamo Academy assistant coach John DeWitt works regularly with Castro on the U-16 squad and served as one of the talent assessors at the tryout.
“If you watch the game as an assessor, you start to look for attributes that make players stand out,” he said. “It was easy for Nelson to stand out because we know what we are looking for. For an attacker, it’s easy to stand out because they are scoring goals and doing exciting things. For a defender though, the trick is to look for when they are making the opposing attackers not do those exciting things.”
DeWitt said Castro’s work ethic and Salazar’s physical presence were two qualities that attracted the Dynamo coaches to the players.
“Lorenzo is big and tall, and with his height he is more prone to win balls in the air,” he said. “We couldn’t tell a lot about his speed at the tryout, but his speed is something that should be an asset given his size, and I think those things have started to translate to what you are seeing now with the goals that he has been scoring.”
Salazar has been a revelation for the U-16 squad, giving it a physical presence at the striker position that has been lacking at times in recent years. During the Academy’s recent road trip to Colorado, Salazar scored two goals in two games and earned a penalty kick to set up another. He has scored three goals on the season and has played a big part in the team’s recent four-game winning streak.
“I’ve just been working hard every day,” Salazar said. “When I went to the Sueño MLS tryout, it was very difficult because there were a lot of players there. But I have worked hard to get to the position I am in now.”
Castro, a natural center back, has spent the majority of the season slightly out of position as an outside back. Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson says Castro has adapted very well to his new position.
“Nelson is young -- he is only a 1995 [birthday] -- but he is very competitive, a good tackler, and he reads the game well,” Clarkson said. “Next season he will probably move into the center back role and potentially be a captain on the squad.”
DeWitt has been equally impressed with how far the two players have come over the past six months.
“I’ve seen them both become players who are more comfortable playing at a faster pace,” he said. “I think when they first came into the Academy, the pace of play may have been faster than what they are used to. The expectations also might have been higher than what they were used to. I think they have adjusted into those roles, and it has been nice to see them develop.”
This weekend, the U-16 team will take its Sueño show on the road to Phoenix for the USSF Developmental Academy Winter Showcase. If the squad can earn positive results against the Clearwater Chargers (FL), Cosmos West (Los Angeles), and California DA (Loomis, CA), they will be in good position to earn one a coveted playoff spot by season’s end.
Academy squads travel to showcase
Both Academy squads will travel to Phoenix this weekend for the USSF Developmental Academy Winter Showcase. Dynamo Academy goalkeeper Fernando Piña is also expected to compete in the Showcase as the goalkeeper for the U.S. U-17 national team in three nationally televised games. U-16 defender Bradley Bourgeois and U-18 defender Leo Ayala were selected to play in the Development Academy Select Game on Saturday, December 4. Two teams of players born in 1992 and 1993 will play each other at 1:30 p.m., followed by two groups of players born in 1994 and 1995 at 3:30 p.m.
Dynamo U-18 vs. Clearwater Chargers December 4 10 a.m.
Dynamo U-18 vs. Cosmos West December 5 11 a.m.
Dynamo U-18 vs. California DA December 7 12:15 p.m.
U-18 Roster: Rogelio Anguiano, Leo Ayala, Chance Bergen, Bryan Celis, Jade George, Pedro Gutierrez Mora, Alan Hernandez, Juan Lopez, Brandon Martin, Abe Matamoros, Josue Morales, Irvinn Ramirez, Erick Tello, Miguel Zapata, Isaiah Noreiga.
Dynamo U-16 vs. Clearwater Chargers December 4 12:15 p.m.
Dynamo U-16 vs. Cosmos West December 5 1:15 p.m.
Dynamo U-16 vs. California DA December 7 12:15 p.m.
U-16 Roster: Alan Arellano, Bradley Bourgeois, Christian Camera, Nelson Castro, Christian Diaz, Raffi Gregorian, Raymundo Marquez, Luis Mendoza, Gabriel Moreno, Juan Navarrete, Alex Ochoa, Branco Ramirez, Bryan Salazar, Lorenzo Salazar, Fortiune Wamutega.
U-17 national team vs. Korea Republic December 1 6 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)
U-17 national team vs. Brazil December 3 6 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)
U-17 national team vs. Turkey December 5 6 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)
Academy welcomes new addition at training
Andrew Thompson trained with the Academy squads at the Awty International School last night, becoming the second player from a Dynamo Juniors program to train with the Academy. Thompson, from El Paso, will train with the Dynamo all week and hope to make a positive impression on Clarkson and the coaching staff. Click here for more information on the Dynamo Juniors program.