Hope widespread in nation's capital
GERMANTOWN, Md. -- They gathered at the Maryland SoccerPlex in suburban Washington, D.C. for Sueño MLS 2009 from Florida, Massachusetts, New York, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and beyond. They ranged in age from 16 to 34 with differing backgrounds, a different story to tell but they all shared the common threads of soccer, hope and opportunity.In its third year Sueño MLS has expanded to four cities, offering aspiring amateur soccer players, primarily Latino, the opportunity to be seen by professional scouts, meet their heroes and chase their dreams of perhaps one day playing professional soccer.Many dreams were real, most were dashed -- some came for the pure experience of playing with and against good players. Regardless, the more than 600 participants endured the entire spectrum of emotions, and despite the outcome, left with an overall positive attitude.The coaching staff, headed by D.C. United director of youth development John Maessner, along with many of his staff, watched the proceedings in general anonymity. Maessner and his staff progressively narrowed the player pool down to 24 for Sunday's final trial with four moving on to Los Angeles for the final player camp."Overall this is good for D.C. United and Major League Soccer to have relationships in the community and try to find players that are diamonds in the rough because there are several players in the community you don't know about and this is a great opportunity for those players to be seen," said Maessner."We have seen some decent players out here but what we are looking for are players that have something a little bit special that might be able to help our academy teams or even our first team," he continued. "You can tell players that can play. We have to pick the most talented kids -- the kids that can make it at the next level and really if there is one or two from the whole day, we are very lucky."The players knew who was watching them in a staff that included El Salvador national team and D.C. United legend Raul Diaz Arce."A little bit," said Jonathon Saenz, 18, with a smile on his face when asked if he was nervous playing in front of Diaz Arce. "Whoa, he is amazing and he was my favorite player. It's good for all Salvadorans to see him here."Saenz, born in San Miguel, El Salvador, has been in the United States for four years and lives with his parents in Maryland."It's going to be very exciting for me because he is a legend in my country. When I was younger I saw him play for D.C. United which is why I came down here from Massachusetts," said Selvin Rivas, 26, also from El Salvador, who came down for the tryout knowing that Diaz Arce would be there. "I knew I could get an opportunity here that are opportunities we don't have up there."Rivas was driven to the camp overnight by his friend, Walter Lopez. The two left Massachusetts at midnight, arriving in Maryland at 11:30 a.m., ensuring he would not miss his afternoon starting slot.Most of the players exuded the nerves one would expect from a situation of this magnitude. Most stood patiently in line to register, quiet and to themselves, which continued on to their warmup routines as they stayed in their own little worlds.The silence broke a bit as they started knocking the ball around amongst themselves but the tension was ominous. For some that carried onto the field, but several, like Ronnie Castellanos, got through it and advanced to the afternoon session where they had the opportunity to be grouped with many of the better players."It was a great experience. I just tried my best. All I did was play soccer and enjoy myself," said the dimunitive 18-year-old Castellanos, who plays for the Greensboro US Academy club but lives in Winston Salem, N.C.The 5-foot-4 forward immediately caught Maessner's eye -- "9 blue with the shoes," he said as he walked to watch action on Field 3, noting his shiny, dark green shoes that match the colors of his club. "Soccer is like my life, it's all I do and I enjoy doing it," said Castellanos.As he was stretching on the sidelines before his first game he ran into Jose Garcia by happenstance, who also hails from Winston Salem via Mexico and the two bonded immediately. Garcia recently tried out for the USL2 Carolina RailHawks. He didn't make it but like Castellanos, his passion is undeniable."What I like best is breathing and just dreaming about playing pro soccer," said Garcia. "I have been waiting ever since I was a little boy for an opportunity like this since I was a little boy I was kicking the ball around. This is like a dream being able to be in scouts' eyes and be able to show my talents. Even if I don't make it, it's a lifetime experience you can write down in a chapter of your life. It's a great experience for everyone and it's never too late for anyone to come out here and show what you got."His dreams are alive but Garcia is grounded. He is married with a child and is a technician for Sprint, repairing phones during the day -- but the rest of his time is for his family and soccer."All I do is dedicate my life to sports and stay drug free," said Garcia, who is playing for a under-19 team in High Point. "I dedicate my time after work and go to the soccer complex after hours and play inside and stay fit and healthy and stay out of trouble. This opportunity came up and I don't want to waste it."His family arrived in California just after he was born and his father left the family shortly after that. He was raised by his mother in a house with four girls and though they struggled for a while, he said, they made through and are on solid ground."I have no idea. He just quit on us I guess it was too much for him," he said about his father leaving. "I wish he could see me now."Lopez, however, did get a bonus gift for driving his friend to the SoccerPlex and helping him get enough rest to give him a reasonable chance.The festivities will be covered live by Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in America, on their mega-sports show, Republica Deportiva. Arriving with Univision to cover the event was model and reporter Alba Galindo. The stunning beauty took pictures and signed autographs for any all comers and Lopez didn't miss his opportunity."It's great to meet somebody that is on TV. It's not every day you get to meet somebody famous like that," said Lopez with a smile from ear to ear.The jet-black haired beauty loves sports and revels in the chance to see young Latino kids get opportunities like Sueno MLS."It's a great opportunity for the kids that dream about playing in MLS. There may be millions of kids out there that we don't know about that have the talent and the dreams of playing in MLS that can get to participate in something like this," said Galindo. "To be here with them, I am going to have a great time with them."The kids come here and give it all they can and demonstrate what they can be and be like the big star they have in mind and they say, 'I can be one of them' and all that matters is that if you want it you can get it."Galindo was thoroughly engaged with Juan Jose Leiva, who shared his life story, including that his favorite player is D.C. United's Jaime Moreno, as she autographed a picture for the 8-year-old. She smiled, called the nervous boy over and gave the blushing young lad a big kiss before he walked back to his father.Cristos Snear is a contributor to MLSnet.com.