Children are fine at LAFC – Daily News



The ongoing argument about the benefits of amateurism, college athletes’ compensation, and whether the NCAA is exploitative or just giving people what they want … all of that is lost by teenagers Christian Torres, Antonio Leone, and Erik Dueñas.

These are soccer players who skipped this step a long time ago. They are home-schooled high school students who are now professionals, training with Los Angeles Football Club as “home” players with bright futures and early training in how the professional system works.

Torres, a 17-year-old striker from Etiwanda, and defenders Dueñas, 16, from LA and Leone, 17, from Long Beach train with the first team, the group with former league MVP Carlos Vela and a number of MLSs -Veterans.

Torres and Leone gained their previous gaming experience in 2021 at the club’s USL Championship subsidiary, the Las Vegas Lights. They have played seven games each for Vegas and Torres has two goals, both against organization rivals LA Galaxy II on June 16. Dueñas is still working her way through a high ankle sprain and has yet to perform at Lights, who train in Los Angeles and bus to Vegas for home games.

All three came from the LAFC Academy, which began two full years before the team’s 2018 MLS debut. Leone said he was 13 years old when he showed up on the club’s radar in 2017 against one of the LAFC Academy’s age-group teams.

“In the end, I was really fine; I think I had a couple of goals, ”he said. “They knew I had potential and turned to my parents.”

Torres, who started at Etiwanda High, said he entered LAFC academy at the age of 14 in 2018 and at the January first-team preseason camp a year later.

“It is definitely nerve-wracking to train with the first team for the first time when you are 15,” he recalls. “I grew up and used to play soccer with my dad and his friends in the park, their Sunday league games, but that’s a whole new level. And it was something that I had to adapt to, and I feel like I’m getting used to it to this day. ”

Dueñas joined the academy in 2016, the first year when he was 12 years old.

“There were a lot of kids trying it, so about 30 kids were exercising each day in the beginning,” he said, adding that the group was broken down by year of birth: a group from 2004 he was in and a group from 2005 group. There were two months of trial training, six months of training and then games against other U12 teams.

The idea, of course, is to develop talent and specifically teach the first team how to play. But you can learn the club’s style and philosophy backwards and forwards, and it’s still a shock to play against all-stars, MVPs, and seasoned professionals as a teenager. But that too is part of the process.

The idea of ​​teenagers sharing the field with adult professionals is alien to this sporting culture, but routine elsewhere. For example, when Barcelona was 12 years old, they tried to bring Argentine prodigy Lionel Messi to their academy. a club executive signed him to a makeshift contract on a napkin fearing Messi’s dad would take him elsewhere, particularly rival Real Madrid. Messi was at the Barcelona first-team camp at 16 and scored his first senior team goal, the first of 474 league Tore, on May 1, 2005, just under two months before his 18th birthday.

Of course, don’t put any pressure on these teenagers.

However, in addition to their LAFC affiliation, all three are also part of the tug-of-war between the youth programs of the USA and Mexico and their recruitment of Mexican-American players, as players can go back and forth as juniors but will be banned once they get involved at senior level. Leone appeared in friendly matches for the junior teams of both countries, Torres was part of the US U-15 national team in 2019 and all three were called up by Mexico to his U-17 training camps in January and February.

If there is an edge, it belongs to Torres. He was the first of the three to play in an MLS game as a sub against Seattle on August 30th. He became the first LAFC Academy local player to score in an MLS game against Portland on October 18, and began in the club’s playoff loss to Seattle on November 24. Earlier this season he had tendinitis in his knees that set him back a bit.

“He’s really had to fight his way through a time when a young player just doesn’t have to exercise regularly, work in the gym or work with physical therapists, that’s not what a young player wants,” said LAFC coach Bob Bradley.

These are some of the vignettes that illustrate MLS’s ongoing transition from a league that relies heavily on imported talent to a league that is developing more young players who add to their squads and ultimately make transfers to top leagues overseas .

MLS took over the youth development system last summer and “MLS-Next “ after the US Soccer Development Academy ceased operations in April last year. The league announced the line-up on Monday a new third division in 2022 This would give the academy’s graduates more opportunities to “get meaningful minutes in high-level competition,” said MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott.

“Games are so important,” said LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon, a 24-year-old fourth year professional who played college soccer for Pacific and spent his first two seasons between LAFC and Phoenix Rising of the USL.

“It’s a huge confidence boost when you get the games and go there and really show how you work and what you can do,” he said. “These guys (the teenagers) did a great job. And it strengthens us in the first team when they come back and have the confidence to train well and play good games. That strengthens the group. ”

It will empower the teenagers as well. How much? Check back in a few years or so.

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter


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