After the New England Revolution recently sent their u-16 team to South Africa to compete in the 2012 Future Champions Gauteng Tournament, Los Angeles Galaxy announced they were sending a team to Spain. The club’s u-18 team participated in the 28th edition of the Real Sociedad Youth Invitational Tournament in San Sebastian, Basque Country in Spain.
Alongside Los Angeles Galaxy, Group A features three Spanish sides, Valencia CF, C.A. Osasuna and the hosts Real Sociedad. Portugal’s RC Celta de Vigo, Greek side Olympiakos and Spanish sides RCD Espanyol and Gipuzkoa Konbinatua are in Group B.
The Galaxy will play Osasuna on Friday, April 6, followed by Valencia on April 7 and Real Sociedad on Sunday, April 8. The winners of each group will meet for the tournament championship on Monday, April 9 at 2 a.m. PST.
This tournament is operated in part by Adidas and the Galaxy team will be exposed to top level training techniques through the Adidas International Training Program. The Galaxy earned their berth in the 2012 Real Sociedad Youth Invitational by virtue of winning the 2011 Generation Adidas Cup victors at the u-16 level.
Team leader Jack McBean was very positive about the tournament. “We’ve been preparing for it for a while now,” McBean said. “I know all the academy kids are really excited to go over there and showcase themselves. I think we’re strong and we’re going in pretty confident.”
Prior to the tournament, the team held a warm up match in Spain to stay loose and get acclimated to the Spanish style. Following their victory in a warm up match against Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano’s u-18 squad 2-1, Los Angeles Galaxy u-18 head coach Eddie Soto was upbeat about the performance and the challenges ahead. “We have a philosophy, we have a style of play that we have been playing…and will play anywhere. Tonight was the opportunity to play against a very good side that is physically strong, and their ability to play quickly is something we are not use to seeing back home. To get a good result it was great…and we didn’t change the way we play. We still looked to play the ball out of the back and combine, and keep possession.”
The squad the Galaxy took to Spain included 2 goalkeepers – Juan Cervantes, Grayson Cornwell; 6 defenders – Chris Antunez, Oscar Sorto, Matt Tilley, Javan Torre, Jeffrey Payeras, Nathan Smith; 5 midfielders – Grady Howe, Bryan Guzman, Drew Murphy, William Raygoza, Jaime Villarreal; and 5 forwards – Justin Dhilon, Jack McBean, Mario Rodriguez, Jose Villarreal, Sebastian Velasquez. Eddie Soto was the head coach of the team, while Braeden Cloutier and Craig Harrington acted as assistants. Pablo Chung also accompanied the team as the trainer.
On Friday April 6th, the Galaxy played Osasuna in their first match of the tournament. After regulation, the scored was tied at 1-1. The Galaxy received a red card and conceded late to allow Osasuna to push to the game to penalties. However, L.A. prevailed from PKs and started the tournament with three points. The starting lineup for this match was: Cervantes, Antúnez, Sorto, Torre, Smith, Howe, Rodríguez, Raygoza, Jose Villarreal, Jaime Villarreal and McBean.
The very next day, on Saturday the 7th, the team faced Valencia CF. Eddie Soto only made one change to face Valencia, choosing to start: Cervantes, Antúnez, Sorto, Torre, Smith, Howe, Jaime Villareal (Guzman), Velásquez (Dhilon, who was later substituted for Murphy), Raygoza, Jose Villareal, McBean (Rodriguez). Valencia defeated Los Angeles on penalties in a close match that could have gone either way. The Galaxy awarded Howe the man of the match, citing that “he has been the motor of the team.” The team remained on 3 points for the tournament.
Los Angeles lost on Sunday 2-1 to Real Sociedad. This was the last game of the group stage and since the Galaxy didn’t win the group, their tournament was over. The team had more of possession and created more chances in the final third, but could not find the net. Jose Villareal scored off a penalty in the first half, in which L.A. dominated. The Galaxy continued to control play in the second half but two defensive blunders allowed Real Sociedad to level on a counter attack and surge for the winner on the last play of the game. The team again named Grady Howe the man of the match after he “was the glue in the middle of the pitch.”
The final standings of the tournament were as follows.
2. Valencia CF
3. Real Sociedad
4. RCD Espanyol
5. Celta de Vigo
7. Los Angeles Galaxy
8. Gipuzkoa Konbinatua
Though Los Angeles finished a meager 7th place out of 8 teams, this tournament is among the elite competitions for up and coming stars in Spain’s La Liga and across Europe. Numerous players like Iker Casillas, Guti, Samuel Eto’o, Aitor Karanka, Pep Guardiola, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, and Ryan Giggs have all advanced their careers through participation in this tournament. Imagine the impact on a young player’s career from competing against a world class player in their development. That is what this tournament offered to the u18 players of Los Angeles Galaxy’s academy.
I’m a big proponent of the large tournament like this now and then. Not every week or even every month, but a tournament like this can focus a team’s training and give immediate motivation to a player training in an academy side. A problem with the previous structure of youth soccer in the United States was the reliance on almost constant tournaments in which young players were faced with the grueling task of six or seven matches in a weekend. However, the occasional tournament can offer a benchmark for the progress a program is making. International tournaments like the Future Champions Tournament, the Real Sociedad Youth Invitational Tournament, and the Dallas Cup expose players to various different styles by offering competition from around the world. That exposure, and its incorporation into a team’s training, can only be good for the Los Angeles Galaxy academy and American youth soccer in general.