"It was something very wonderful," the 18-year-old told Ovacion.com. "It was extremely emotional. I never would have thought I would debut in the Primera. At least for now the dream has come true."
Funes, a 66th-minute sub in River Plate's 3-1 Primera Division loss to Velez Sarsfield, immigrated to Texas from Argentina with his family at age 10. After a season in which he scored 35 goals for Arlington High, he entered "Sueno Dallas" -- sueno means "dream" in Spanish -- and prevailed among the 2,000 participants.
A sort of "American Idol" for soccer players, Sueno was launched in 2007 by MLS and Univision. In its first year, Sueno participants competed for a chance to make it with Chivas USA, and the winner, then 17-year-old Jorge Flores, succeeded in earning an MLS contract. Flores was later selected for the U.S. U-20 national team.
In its second year, Sueno was expanded to include FC Dallas.
Funes won the FC Dallas Sueno contest while Salvadoran-born Briant Reyeswas named the 2008 Chivas USA winner.
FC Dallas welcomed four participants into its youth program, the Dallas Juniors, including Jael Barreraand Noel Luna. But Gabriel Funes and his brother Ramiro, who reached the final 12 at Sueno, left soon after to train at River Plate. The Funes brothers had previously played for Arlington club Associated Soccer Group.
Gabriel scored four goals for River Plate's reserve team this season, including one the week before his first-team debut.
Ovacion.com reported that against Velez, Funes nutmegged an opponent and was involved in the attack.
"I came in with confidence," said Funes, "and was a little nervous, which is normal. I got into the action, but came up short in front of the goal. But it was a good debut, and it was very important for me that I didn't mis-hit any passes."
River Plate, which has won a record 33 Argentine titles, is currently in 15th place. Pagina 12 reported that Funes is one of five attacking players under age 22 who are a key part of River Plate's rebuilding project for next season, the Clausura 2010.
River Plate faces Racing on Thursday in its second-to-last game of the Apertura 2009.
Gabriel Funes is one of several former Dallas youth stars to succeed abroad.
Ramon Nunezreturned to his native Honduras after a stint in MLS with Dallas and now plays in Mexico for Cruz Azul. He is expected to represent Honduras at the 2010 World Cup.
Like Nunez, a former Dallas Texans star, Lee Nguyenis playing professionally in Vietnam after stints in Netherlands with PSV and Denmark with Randers.