Now in its seventh year, Sueño MLS makes its first stop in Colorado from April 20-21. I wrote a wee preview of the event for Coloradorapids.com, based on head coach Oscar Pareja’s perspective.
This thing is not a gimmick. Jorge Villafaña (formerly Jorge Flores, but he changed his name to honor his mother) has proven to be the real deal. The Anaheim, California native spent some of his formative years in Pénjamo, Guanajuato (México) before returning to Anaheim High School. He was on the waiting list for the inaugural search in 2007, and luckily he got his chance and ended up winning the whole shebang.
The contest winners join the club’s academy program, but Villafaña kept moving up through the Chivas USA ranks, eventually scoring goals for the first team. This year, Villafaña has already registered two assists for the rejuvenated Chivas USA. He’s been with the team longer than anyone on the roster.
Pareja had good fortune at FC Dallas in 2008 when he bagged one of the two co-winners, Rogelio Gabriel Funes Mori. But the fortune was too good. At the time, Pareja was working with the development program for the club.
“We had a great experience when I was in Dallas,” Pareja recalled. “The winner (Gabriel Funes Mori) is now playing at River Plate, costing millions of dollars. That says a lot about the program. He played with me for seven months. It was hard for us because we wanted to keep him. We need to keep fishing for those guys.”
Gabriel’s twin brother Jose is also with River Plate, yet another Sueño MLS success story. Jose was also a Sueño MLS finalist.
But Colorado’s head coach had other interesting views of the dream process. The players need to be between 14 and 18, a critical time for growing up regardless of your passion. He said it’s important for some players to hear the truth from professionals. They might be great soccer players, but if they’re not quite good enough to go pro, only a professional coach or player can honestly make the assessment. For the majority of players on the bubble, this can be a life-changing opportunity. Years later, perhaps as a grandfather recounting stories for the little ones, these players can identify the point when they learned they were just a cut below the top level. This sounds a lot better than, “I coulda’ been a contender. I coulda’ been somebody.”