All-Star week has come and gone, with the MLS All-Stars losing to Arsenal 2-1 on a balmy night in San Jose California, but, for those interested in the Galaxy, the real story played out the night before at the Chipotle Homegrown game when a team of MLS homegrown players coached by Landon Donovan, took on the Mexico U20 team in a game that would ultimately end in a 2-0 defeat for the MLS side.
But, for all the attacking talent showcased by the Mexican squad on the night, one of the brightest offensive performances came from none other than Raul Mendiola for the MLS homegrown team who was constantly taking players on, wrong footing defenders and delivering devastating passes behind the defense.
But for those familiar with the 22 year old Galaxy II phenom, this shouldn't come as a big surprise. It's something we've been seeing for years. Talk to scouts and you'll hear rave reviews. He's a fearless player with tons of skill with the ball at his feet and a great turn of pace. What's more, his vision and passing are excellent.
But it doesn't take the keen eye of a scout to realize that this kid has an enormous ceiling. In 2015, Mendiola was averaging nearly an assist every other game in the USL. Of course, Raul is one of arguably a handful of Galaxy II regulars who have clearly demonstrated they have outgrown USL. Chances on the first team outside of the odd US Open Cup game here and there, however, have been few and far between under Bruce Arena.
"The unfortunate thing for Jack [McBean] and Raul [Mendiola] is they play for a team that has a lot of stars that are good players, and, probably, at this point, are better players than they are," Landon Donovan explained. "But that doesn't mean that Raul [Mendiola]and Jack McBean don't have an opportunity, so they need a chance."
I asked Landon whether he thought it was time for Raul Mendiola to make the jump to the next level, and his answer was simple— "I think so"
"A lot of [these homegrown players] just need a chance, and I think our league has sort of shifted to general managers and coaches taking chances on bringing in foreign guys versus giving younger guys opportunities. That's why when I see Dallas do well and give these guys chances, and the Galaxy to a little bit less of an extent... that's the only way we get better as a soccer country. So, I'm all for bringing in foreigners and older veterans that help, but, at some point you want to see these kids get an opportunity." Donovan told the media.
Donovan's general criticism of the state of the league certainly seems to ring especially true with the Galaxy in particular who signed a trio of Europeans in Jelle Van Damme , Nigel De Jong and Ashley Cole, in addition to veteran free agents, Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee. It is a team which even a talent like Sebastian Lletget is having a hard time breaking into, let alone a homegrown talent like Raul Mendiola.
"Listen," Donovan explained, "my first year I was in San Jose, I played 12 straight games without scoring a goal, but Frank Yallop said ‘the team's winning, you are doing well in other areas, we're going to let you play.' Now, had he not given me that chance, who knows what happens?"
And when you think about it, this is a truly profound thought. Perhaps, somewhere out there is a parallel universe where Landon Donovan never grew into the talented player he eventually became, all because a coach decided to play it safe.
"Some of these kids need five to ten games to see if they are going to do it, and when they do that, maybe they are going to blossom into something special [...] Raul is one of those players who needs a chance."