LOS ANGELES -- After a whirlwind four days of practices, workouts, and games, 17-year-old Alberto Lopez has been named the winner of Sueño MLS 2009. The Illinois native has earned himself a tryout with the Chicago Fire's youth system in the hopes of one day winning a professional contract.
Lopez, a midfielder, was selected from a pool of 12 finalists after the group flew to Los Angeles to train together and play in a series of scrimmages against local youth sides.
"This is a dream come true," Lopez said after his victory was announced live on "República Deportiva," Univision's weekly Spanish-language sports program. "I've spent years practicing in the street and at home, playing 24/7, and it all paid off."
Lopez hails from Aurora, Ill., where he plays for East Aurora High School as well as club team the Aurora Warriors. A solid attacking midfielder, he scored 18 goals for his high school last season.
"We wanted a player who was consistently good throughout, who gave a good effort, and was good technically on the ball," U.S. national team and MLS veteran Marcelo Balboa said. "He had everything we were looking for."
Balboa joined Peruvian World Cup legend Teofilo Cubillas and Mexican national team and Chivas Guadalajara goalkeeper Martin "El Pulpo" Zúñiga as a "celebrity scout" for the contest. MLS director of player programs Alfonso Mondelo served as head coach for the finalists during their time in Los Angeles.
"It was nonstop for us," said 16-year-old Ricardo Buendia, Sueño MLS 2009's third-place finisher. "We had two days of practices and then two games. I think we're all very tired."
The 12 finalists played scrimmages against the youth teams of Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy, earning a 0-0 draw against the Red-and-White on Friday and a 2-2 tie against Los Angeles on Saturday.
"I think the games were the most difficult part," said Buendia, a fullback. "We had only been together for four days. To play against teams that have been together for a while and earn a tie was a really good feeling. We have such great talent here that if you put us together with great coaches and great advice, we can achieve great things together."
In Saturday's game, the Sueno team twice came from behind, with goals from D.C. winner Cesar Bazan and Chicago winner Steve Palma. The game was played on The Home Depot Center stadium field, only hours before the Super Clasico between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Now in its third year, Sueño MLS 2009 included tryouts in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago, with four winners from each city moving on to the four-day finals in Los Angeles.
"For soccer here in the U.S., we're still trying to find that needle in a haystack," Balboa said. "We want to see those players that can't always afford to play in big clubs. I think this is a great opportunity for these kids."
Having won the contest, Alberto Lopez will now join the youth side of the Chicago Fire to try and earn himself a permanent position.
"Getting to the finals and winning is difficult," said Chivas USA midfielder Jorge Flores, a past Sueño MLS winner. "And when you arrive at the team, it's hard, but it can be done."
Flores was the winner of the original Sueño MLS in 2007, and now plays for Chivas USA and the United States Under-20 national team.
While not the ultimate winners, the other eleven Sueño MLS finalists will return home with the experience of a lifetime and the knowledge that they are some of the best young talent in the United States.
"We're not breaking their dreams," Balboa said. "We put a little bump in the road right now, and a kid that can get over that bump will be the one that succeeds in soccer and in life."
As for Lopez, he's one step closer to his dream of playing professionally.
"The door has been opened for me, now I have to earn my place in the team," Lopez said. "It will be difficult, but I will work hard and take advantage of the opportunity I've been given."