CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy youth academy boasts many exciting prospects, but one of the brightest stars is midfielder Raul Mendiola.
An 18-year-old from San Bernardino by way of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Mendiola is widely considered one of the top young prospects in the United States having earned U.S. Soccer Development Academy Player of the Year honors twice during his development. Mendiola joined the Galaxy Academy officially last year after two seasons with Temecula-based youth club Arsenal FC and is expected to play a key role with LA's Under-18 squad during the current USSDA season. Since the start of the season, Mendiola has been training regularly with the Galaxy first team -- where he is often inseparable from Jose Villarreal -- and has made six appearances for LA's Reserve League squad.
A creative midfielder in the number 10 mold since his Arsenal days, Mendiola has seen considerable time on the flanks during his time with the Reserves.
Below is my conversation with Mendiola on his prospects with the team and much more...
(On training with the Galaxy and stars like David Beckham and Landon Donovan…)
MENDIOLA: “For me, it’s an honor. It’s not often that every kid gets to train with them. You learn from them too every day. Outside the field, inside the field and it’s just amazing.”
(On his relationship with Villarreal…)
MENDIOLA: “I’ve known him since I was ten. We used to be rival in clubs (Raul with Temecula’s Arsenal and Jose with Torrance’s South Bay Force) and now that we have the chance to be teammates. He helps me and tells me to try hard all the time because you start from the bottom and work your way up to the top…We used to go at it and we didn’t get along back then, but we’ve let that go because we’re with the Galaxy."
(On advice that Villarreal has given him…)
MENDIOLA: “He’s told me when he’s playing out in the stadium that it’s quicker. You have to make quick decisions and it’s faster so people come at you faster. Back in [youth soccer] people wouldn’t come at you and you could take your touches, but he tells me just to work hard. Even though you have a bad practice, it’s just patience because things are going to work out. He does give me a lot of advice, I just stick with him and we’re always together.”
(On his growth as a younger player…)
MENDIOLA: “I guess when I was younger, I dreamed of being in Europe. I’m here and you have to work being here. My family tells me that I have to work to get somewhere because it’s not easy. I have to have patience, but I love it here and the environment. I’m living closer now [in Torrance] and it’s great.”
(On whether or not he could see himself playing for the Galaxy…)
MENDIOLA: “Yeah. Like I said, I love California and I’m hoping that I could make it big here one day.”
(On transitioning to a new position on the midfield flank…)
MENDIOLA: “The [coaches] are very good. It’s hard, but it’s part of soccer and you have to get used to stuff like that. They have me playing left mid and right mid, I usually play in the middle, but I just have to get used to it. They tell me a lot of things and I just have to get used to it until I get it right. Then I have to still work on it in order to get better.”
(On the one part of his game that he could improve on…)
MENDIOLA: “Defending. Landon [Donovan] has told me that it starts off with defending. Not just going forward, but to come back and help out on defense. I try to work on that a lot.”
(On moving on from his hometown of San Bernardino…)
MENDIOLA: It’s hard, San Bernardino is not a good city, but now it’s different. In the past, I’ve been through a lot that stuff, but that’s my city, I love it, but this is a different environment. San Bernardino is really bad, but now I’m in a happy place.”
(On what his family thinks of him training with the Galaxy…)
MENDIOLA: “They are proud. I do go visit them at times, but my family is proud of me wherever I go. My family is still [in San Bernardino] and I’m just trying to focus on me right now and leave the past behind because I have been through a lot. But I love this environment and focus right now.”
(On how Reserve League games help his development…)
MENDIOLA: “It does help me. Even though it’s ten minutes, 20 minutes, it does help me a lot. The first team might be faster, but it helps me a lot and the coaches are still telling me to improve.”
(On whether Mendiola sees his development growing…)
MENDIOLA: “I do, I do. From 14 to now, maybe it got a little quicker, but I still have to work on things and maybe get a spot soon on the Reserve team, but it takes patience and I just need to keep working.”