For Los Angeles Football Club’s hungry prospects, a Round of 32 U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday night offers the one thing they perpetually desire.
“Like every young guy, they’re always waiting for the opportunity,” said Erik Dueñas, who is expected to join 19-year-old LAFC homegrowns Christian Torres and Nathan Ordaz among a cast of young players looking to depart sold-out 6,000-seat Cardinale Stadium in Seaside as knockout winners over Monterey Bay FC.
“That’s what we’re here for,” added Dueñas, who in 2020 became the third-youngest player to make his MLS debut. “We’re ready, trying to stay sharp and focused and ready mentally but also physically once they give us the opportunity to perform our best. That’s what we’re doing as young players. Now that we’re getting the opportunity it’s time for us to show what we have and give everything we have.”
With the majority of the senior team staying behind in L.A. to rest following the club’s first MLS loss of the season in San Jose on Saturday, the kids face a real-world stress test of their ability as well as the club’s academy and talent development programs.
“Coming down from the academy to the second team and the first team is a big step for us,” said Dueñas, who turns 19 later this month. “It’s a really big game for us to show what we have.”
The L.A. native is among a handful of LAFC players who logged minutes against Monterey Bay with the Las Vegas Lights. He did so late in the 2022 season while working back to full strength after knee surgery. Rebuilt to the point of playing 90 minutes in his first MLS start at Nashville last month, Dueñas earned praise from fellow players and coaches.
LAFC’s talent and resources help explain why Monterey Bay, a second-year USL team under 59-year-old English head coach and sporting director Frank Yallop, isn’t hung up on the opposing team’s lineup.
“They can play whoever they like,” said Yallop, who helmed MLS Cup-winning teams from San Jose in 2001 and 2003, and captured the Supporters’ Shield in 2012. “I mean, we’re playing against LAFC, whether it’s younger players or substitutes or Carlos Vela. Whatever. For us, it’s about playing LAFC and we want to win.
“The teamsheet you won’t see, just the result.”
Yallop said the response in the surrounding county during Monterey’s ongoing seven-match unbeaten run, including a pair of Open Cup wins with a 1-0 result over San Jose, indicates the club is heading in a good direction.
“Being brand new is not easy,” he said. “You wonder how you’re going to get on. But I think we’ve done a really good job in the front office and obviously on the field with the team to build that good rapport with fans.”
Using a compact midblock, Monterey does not create as many chances as Yallop wants, particularly on headed crosses, but the shots they take, usually with pace during transition breakaways, are converted as often as any USL team.
From Dueñas’ experience, limited as it might be, there is minimal difference in the competitive chops between the leagues.
“It looks like a great atmosphere,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a good game with a lot of fans. With a lot of people. And we’re ready. We’re feeling great. We’re feeling amazing. And now it’s time to play.”
LAFC AT MONTEREY BAY FC
What: U.S. Open Cup, Round of 32
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Cardinale Stadium, Seaside
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Golazo Network