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Three Standouts from the 2016 MLS Homegrown Game
The academy system is a pivotal part of Major League Soccer’s growth strategy and as an increasing number of talented youngsters flow into the league, the opposition for the Chipotle Homegrown Team has improved steadily over its three years of existence. In the inaugural 2014 edition of the Homegrown Game, they drew a match against the Portland Timbers Under-23s and then lost on penalties to the Club America Under-20 squad last year.
This year, however, the Mexico Under-20 national team proved too much for the hodgepodge selection of young MLS talents to handle. Man of the match striker Luis Marquez scored a first-half brace to boost Mexico past the Homegrown Team in front of a modest but vocal crowd at Avaya Stadium.
The Homegrown Team predictably suffered from a lack of cohesion across the pitch, but these three men stood out from the pack:
JESSE GONZALEZ — FC DALLAS
Mexico dominated the first half and could have had several more goals but for FC Dallas stopper Jesse Gonzalez, who was the standout in an otherwise uninspiring Homegrown Team during the opening forty-five minutes. He came up big on multiple occasions to keep El Tri out and was at fault for neither of Marquez’s goals, the first being a penalty and the second a fluke free-kick that snuck past everybody and into the back of the net at the far post.
In the eleventh minute, Gonzalez made a spectacular diving save to deny Dian Rios’ wicked volley, tipping the ball onto the crossbar at full stretch. Mexico caused the Homegrown Team a lot of problems with the long switch to the left and Gonzalez was forced to make another important stop in the twentieth minute as Ulises Jaimes broke in down the wing. The twenty-one-year-old rushed off his line to make the vital kick-stop from Jaimes’ low effort to once again prove why he’s one of the most highly touted young goalkeepers in the league.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 28, 2016
A certain Landon Donovan would agree. “[Jesse Gonzalez] has incredible potential, he’s another guy who needs to play a lot of minutes,” Donovan told reporters after the game. Right now he’s switching in and out with Chris Seitz [in Dallas] and I’d like to see him play [more]. But he’s done really well, he’s been great for us.”
JAY CHAPMAN — TORONTO FC
Jay Chapman was another bright spot for the Homegrown Team and although Donovan’s men lacked cohesion in the middle, the Toronto FC man was behind what few chances the Homegrown Team had in the first half. In the forty-five minutes he played, the Canadian driving force in the middle of the Homegrown Team.
In the twentieth minute, he launched Coy Craft down the right with an incisive through ball to set up the Homegrown Team’s only shot on target in the first half and then burst into a pocket of space through the middle in a rare moment of class as the first half lulled to a close. He slipped the ball into Jordan Hamilton’s peeling run on the left side of the box and the Toronto FC forward pulled a low effort just wide of the far post, eliciting the largest cheer of the first half.
The tall, lean twenty-two-year-old has made twelve appearances for Toronto so far this season and his performance today can only give the Canadian side more confidence he can continue to build on his promising run of form.
RAUL MENDIOLA — LA GALAXY
The Homegrown Team vastly improved in the second half, for what it’s worth in such a friendly, and Raul Mendiola’s introduction in the thirty-second minute helped turn the game around for Donovan’s men.
The young midfielder has been struggling to break into the LA Galaxy’s first team, playing out of position on the wing in his rare few appearances, but was able to show a glimpse of what he’s capable of when given playing time in his fifty-eight minutes on the pitch tonight. He worked well with Galaxy teammate Jack McBean and Seattle Sounders star Jordan Morris through the middle and combined with the former in the seventy-third minute, jinxing his way into the box to carve out the Homegrown team’s best chance of the game. However, his wild shot sailed miles over the crossbar from just ten yards out.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 28, 2016
It may only take more playing time for Mendiola to gain the composure in front of goal and bury those chances in the future, but that might not be at the Galaxy.
Said coach Landon Donovan: “[Raul] and [LA Galaxy teammate] Jack McBean were both excellent. You could tell they play together, you could see them connecting. I thought they were very, very good together. Raul needs a chance, but the unfortunately for him and Jack, they play on a team that has a lot of star players who are probably