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03/25/2008 4:04PM

Lara the last 'keeper standing

High-schooler stands out in midst of field players
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Alonso Lara is the only goalkeeper to make it to the final five of LA Sueno 2008.
Alonso Lara is the only goalkeeper to make it to the final five of LA Sueno 2008. (Miranda/MLS)

CARSON, Calif. -- Alonso Lara is not yet the last man standing in Chivas USA's second year of Sueno MLS. But he is the last of his kind in the competition.

Lara is the only one of the five finalists who wears gloves every time he takes the field. As the last goalkeeper, Lara is hoping to lay claim to the talent search competition and work his way toward a professional contract.

"I feel really excited right now, like something big is going on in my life," Lara said. "Everybody is recognizing me right now and it's a great experience."

Out of 2,000 trialists, Lara and four other players are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Jorge Flores, who won the tournament last year and is now on Chivas USA's roster as the club approaches the start of the 2008 MLS season. This year's winners, one from Chivas USA and one from FC Dallas, will be announced live on Univision's República Deportiva on Sunday, just before the MLS season opener between FC Dallas and Chivas USA.

But Lara's own challenges were different than the other four.

With young players, coaches and scouts might identify certain skills in a player and mold them over into something else, for instance a fleet-footed defender might play better as a wide midfielder. But with Lara and other young goalkeepers, it seems the options are simple: either they have it or they don't.

"I thought it would be difficult to win it and to get a spot as a goalie because there are different things that coaches like," Lara said. "I thought what coaches really liked was field players and not the goalie and I thought that was kind of a disadvantage."

Lara, though, said he has overcome plenty to make it this far, and now that he's so close to the final spot he won't let any perceived notions about his position stand in his way.

"It's hard for me to win it because I'm just one goalie but all I have to do is just show them I could win it," Lara said. "It gives me more confidence because I've seen the people that went through, seeing all those goalies around and I'm that one goalie. It gives me even more motivation to try even harder."

That he would have been the last goalkeeper remaining -- and a member of the final five to boot -- would have been something he would have found difficult to imagine prior to the start of the tournament.

"I thought it would be hard 2,000 players from across the United States and around 300 goalies, I thought it would be really hard but once you're playing it's just do what you've got to do," Lara said. "There were a lot of great players out there they didn't choose but you have to just stand out."

A standout goalkeeper at Livingston High School, Lara has gained some additional clout at school by getting this far.

"They treat me differently, like a professional when still I'm not even there yet," Lara said of his teammates and fellow students. "They respect me even more than before."

Lara is taking advantage of his school's spring break to train with Chivas USA's under-16 side. Last week, Lara left at 4:30 a.m. on a bus headed to Garden Grove, where he is staying with an uncle, and will train with Chivas USA's youth side in his final attempt to catch coaches' eyes.

Before, his father Jorge Lara was driving him down to each round.

That he even tried out was a bit of a fluke. Lara was supposed to have participated as a guest player with a local club in a youth tournament in Las Vegas but age limits prevented him from playing.

"My dad said, 'Why not go to Chivas USA?'" Lara said.

Having been around fellow talented players all trying to distinguish themselves before coaches and scouts has left Lara with quite an impression and has left him with an idea of just how challenging professional soccer is.

"It's pretty hard to begin with because (scouts) are looking for guys who can play in MLS," he said. "We just have to try harder and harder to show them we can, it's pretty hard but just always play your game."

Flores, though, offered inspiration.

"Seeing him coming from Anaheim and just being one of those players who played in high school and club, kind of the same as me, and just seeing how he came out of nowhere, I could be the next one too," Lara said. "I have to try harder not be Jorge Flores but try hard to at least make it where he is."

Just days away from potentially realizing a dream, Lara said winning the competition would be a monumental achievement for him and his family.

"To come from playing in the street and now actually playing with the big team," Lara said, "would mean something big to me and my family."

Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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