15-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy Academy forward Justin Dhillon has had one heck of a week. On Tuesday, he made his debut with the Galaxy reserve team as a second half substitute in a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers. Saturday, he made his first start and played the whole game in the Galaxy U-18 Academy’s 2-2 draw with MLS Academy neighbor Chivas USA.
The 90-minute performance was one for the scrapbooks too, as Dhillon scored two goals in the final five minutes to rally the home team back from a one goal deficit to take the lead with two minutes remaining before giving up an equalizer in the dying seconds.
“Nati [Schnitman] made a great overlapping run with Riley [Wolfe],” Dhillon told Goal.com about the buildup to the first goal after the game. “[Schnitman] got the ball and crossed it in. I was there for a diving header.” Dhillon found space in between the two Chivas USA center backs for his diving effort that he directed into the bottom left corner of the net.
“The second one was a great play by our team,” the young striker said about the quick movement that setup the second goal. “Angel [Ayala] beat his man and slipped me through for the breakaway.”
The tall attacker coolly knocked it into the back of the net to complete the brace. It was the ninth career goal in the Development Academy for Dhillon, who spent the first half of the season with the U-16 team. His go-ahead goal was short-lived though, as Chivas USA stormed back immediately to settle the proceedings on level terms.
With only a minute remaining before added time, Chivas USA grabbed the final tally of the day through a wonderfully concocted passing sequence that ended with a header by Daniel Castro. The play started when captain Ian Hines-Ike won the ball in the center of the field in the attacking third. He sent it wide to Bryan de la Fuente, who served in a great cross to the far post that Castro rose up above his mark and nodded home.
“It feels like a loss to us,” Chivas USA U-18 head coach Sacha van der Most told Goal.com after the game. “Give up two goals in the final minutes of regular time is painful. Of course, it is a relief to at least to get a point out of it.”
Chivas USA was set to take all three points before Dhillon’s brace, as the Goats grabbed the opener midway through the first half. Pedro ‘Peter’ Velazquez chased down a long ball into the Galaxy half and beat his defender before calmly slotting it around the keeper.
Van der Most pointed out that Saturday was another reminder of what has been haunting the young Rojiblancos all season – a lack of a killer instinct in front of the net. With a 5-2-5 record in division play and the season heading towards its twilight, the coach emphasized that the team needed to fix the scoring woes in order to have a chance at a post-season berth.
Galaxy, on the other hand, still has ten games remaining in the season, but has also struggled with stringing together results. With only two points from the last three games, Galaxy is also in need of some positive results over the next two months to secure a place into the playoffs. However, it has turned to some unusual sources for the final push of the season.
Along with Dhillon, Galaxy started four other players on Saturday who are eligible for this season’s U-16 team: Matthew Tilley, Sebastian Velasquez, Grady Howe, and Eric Gonzalez. The latter left Van der Most nearly speechless after the game, before the Chivas Academy director put it simply, “great player.”
Gonzalez, born in 1994, was a member of the fall 2009 and spring 2010 U.S. residency program and former captain of the U.S. U15 national team. In the Galaxy’s 4-1-4-1 formation, he is given a lot of the creative control of the offense from an attacking center midfielder role.
With so many of his former players now on the older team, U-16 Galaxy Academy coach Kenny Arena was beaming on the sideline throughout the game while he chitchatted with Academy Director Chris Klein. He was also the first to greet Dhillon after the final whistle with a handshake and a pat on the back for the two-goal star.
Arena, and many in the Galaxy organization, knows there is a process to a player’s development and these player’s are starting to be pushed. Dhillon cited his time with reserve team as helping him refine his game for the next level.
“It has really improved [my game],” Dhillon said about the experience gained from playing with the reserve team. “[Reserve team coach Kurt Onalfo] tells me to watch the pros and note their positioning. I think that helped me in this game.”
Tilley joined him in the reserve game last Tuesday, as the defender’s stock continues to rise within the Galaxy organization. Since the 16-year-old joined the Galaxy officially in March, he has played every single minute at center back for U-18 side.
The Galaxy’s rising stars will be tested this month with six academy games plus some reserve games sprinkled in. Chivas USA won’t have to wait long for a rematch. The two LA MLS Academies square off again on May 21 at Santa Ana Municipal Stadium at 5:00 p.m.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. If you have a comment or an idea for a story, you can email him at jr.eskilson[at]gmail.com. Or follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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