It was a near perfect afternoon for Lynwood native, Ulysses Llanez. Imagine growing up in Southern California with the dream of playing soccer at the highest level possible. Add to that the opportunity to play for the US Mens National Team in your home town at just the age of 18. That is exactly what happened at Dignity Health Sports Park on February first. The USMNT played Costa Rica in an international friendly. “Uly” was on the roster.
Uly, a former LA Galaxy Academy player, now plays in Germany with the Wolfsburg U19s. Uly spoke about the opportunity to represent the USA in an interview.
There were many players with ties to Southern California in this USMNT match. But, only one scored the game winning goal. In a stadium where he has always dreamed of playing, Uly was able to start, play, score and win the game. All with his family and friends there with him.
With preparation for Olympic Qualification in mind, the USMNT rostered a squad with the average age of just 23 years old. Thirteen players on this roster are eligible for the U-23 Olympic Qualification. The USA Olympic team will be coached by Jason Kreis. Kreis recently spoke about preparing for the Costa Rica match. He stated this about working with USMNT Coach Gregg Berhalter: “This camp is a really terrific opportunity for me and some of the key players in the U-23 pool to work with Gregg and his staff for an extended period of time.” The qualification in attempt to win a gold medal at the Olympics begins in March.
Back to those So Cal kids!
Uly was not the only player with ties to Southern California. Winger Paul Arriola hails from Chula Vista. Arriola earned his 33rd cap. Center Back Aaron Long, out of Oak Hills, earned his 17th. The player with the most caps in this roster, at 56, was Gyasi Zardes, former LA Galaxy player and Hawthorne native. In the squad but not seeing action was youngster, Julian Araujo. At just 18 years old Julian has earned first team minutes with LA Galaxy and could be on the radar for time with the USMNT moving forward.
Souther California has always had a burgeoning talent pool of footballers. That does not seem to be changing. Last week at the pre-season LAFC v Penarol match 5 players from the LAFC Academy saw action while playing along the likes of Carlos Vela. Those players were aged 14-16 and had the opportunity to play with one of the top teams in MLS against one of the strongest teams from South America. As the landscape trends with more opportunities for teenagers to play in meaningful matches like this we can only hope the future of US Soccer is looking brighter all the time.
photos by Carey Schumacher @CS9Sports