[THIRTEEN FOR '13]Salvadoran-American Oscar Sorto, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles idolizing Los Angeles Galaxy star Maurico Cienfuegos, became the first defender the MLS champs have signed to a homegrown contract. Like that of Jose Villarreal, who debuted for the Galaxy in 2012, Sorto's signing comes 15 months after he joined the Galaxy academy program for the 2011 Development Academy champion Pateadores, a club that had picked them up from the South Bay Force club coached by Todd Saldana.
The connection from the Force to Pateadores and the Galaxy even leads to the U.S. under-20 national team as Villarreal, Sorto and Javan Torre, now a freshman at UCLA, are all training this week with Tab Ramos' U-20s in Florida.
How three players from a small Southern California club made it to the top is a testament to how competitive youth soccer is in Southern California and to how committed Saldana, who had turned pro out of high school himself to play for the NASL Los Angeles Aztecs, was to get the best soccer experience for his players.
South Bay Force was too small to enter the Development Academy, but its U-16s and U-18s were so strong that Saldana, the former UC:A head coach, jumped at the chance to partner with Pateadores. Coached by Saldana with former U.S. World Cup player Thomas Dooley as his assistant, Pateadores won the 2011 U-17/18 championship at the Development Academy's Finals Week.
Things moved quickly after that. The Galaxy snapped up Villarreal, Sorto, Javan and five other starters from Pateadores for the 2011-12 academy season, and South Bay Force signed a partnership with the Galaxy -- a natural for Saldana's players since the Home Depot Center, home of the Galaxy, was close by. (Training with Pateadores meant a trek to Orange County.)
In the days before the Home Depot Center, the Galaxy didn't have a complex of fields for its first team, its academy teams or other teams, like those in the national youth program that call Carson home.
But Sorto's father was a big Cienfuegos fan, and he took 6-year-old Oscar to see the El Salvador star train with the Galaxy at the USC soccer field near their home in South Central Los Angeles.
“I remember [my dad] telling me to ‘look at that player, he’s a smart player’,” Sorto told Adam Serrano of lagalaxy.com. “That’s the only thing that I remember. He told me that ‘I want you to be one of those important players.’”
Sorto, who was named to the Development Academy all-conference team, first thought about attending Cal State Bakersfield. But after graduating from Manual Arts High School in June, he headed to Sweden, where he trained at sister club Hammarby, coached by former Galaxy player Gregg Berhalter.
The Galaxy only had Sorto for one academy season but saw enough to make a decision on signing him to a homegrown contract. He played seven MLS Reserve League games for the Galaxy in 2012.
“It is a dream come true to join a club like the Galaxy, a team I have been a fan of since I was kid,” Sorto said. “Growing up watching players like Mauricio Cienfuegos and Cobi Jones win championships motivated me to become a professional. I am very happy to now be able to represent my hometown like they did.”
THIRTEEN FOR '13:
6. Oscar Sorto (Los Angeles Galaxy U-17/18s-signed with Los Angeles Galaxy)
5. Mikey Lopez (North Carolina)
4. Amando Moreno (New York Red Bulls U-17/18s-signed with New York Red Bulls)
3. Andrew Farrell (Louisville)
2. Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina)
1. Wil Trapp (Akron-signed with Columbus Crew)