CARSON, Calif – Following in the footsteps of the likes of Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean, LA Galaxy Academy player Raul Mendiola is the latest Galaxy youth player to make a splash at the Reserve League level.
With LA needing a spark off the bench in a match against the Chivas USA reserves on Tuesday, the Galaxy brought on the fleet-footed Mendiola in the 72nd minute for Kenney Walker. Using his trademark speed, the 18-year-old winger made an immediate impact, helping create the game’s only goal just six minutes later. After slicing through the Chivas defense, Mendiola fired a shot on frame that was blocked by Rojiblancos goalkeeper Tim Melia, the rebound fell perfectly for McBean who tapped in the game’s only goal.
“Raul is a very talented player,” said Villarreal after the Galaxy’s 1-0 victory. “He’s not the strongest player, but he’s a very smart player and he’s skillful with the ball. He came in [during Tuesday’s Reserve League game] and gave us energy and because of him, we got the goal.”
The past year has been a rollercoaster of sorts for The Mexican native from Rialto High School. After a successful stint with Temecula-based youth club Arsenal, Mendiola embarked on a pair of trials with European giants Manchester City and Valencia before returning to the Galaxy.
Upon returning from a brief sojourn in Europe, Mendiola immediately showed why he is considered one of LA’s top prospects for a Homegrown contract as he helped the Galaxy’s U-17s to a GA Cup title last August.
“He’s a young player and his strength is as a guy that can come off the bench,” said Reserve League head coach Curt Onalfo, who has compared Mendiola to DC United’s Andy Najar. “To help him understand tactically how to help out on both sides of the ball and get a fitness level where he’s able to complete at longer stretches that’s all part of his development and those are all of the things that we’re working with him.”
Friends on and off the field, Villarreal and Mendiola are inseparable during Galaxy training sessions, frequently taking part in goalscoring contests long after practice is over. While Villarreal has become one of the most talked about academy products in MLS in recent weeks, he believes that Mendiola is capable of even greater things.
“We’re on the same level,” said Villarreal. “We’re there with each other and we support each other and I’m very happy to see him do some good stuff.”
As Mendiola continues his development, Villarreal has been quick to provide a few words of wisdom to his friend.
“I just tell him to keep working. He’ll get his minutes,” said Villarreal. “It’s like me, I had to go through the same thing and now I’m getting more minutes, but he just has to keep working.”