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New teenage trio at LAFC finding their footing at MLS level

Homegrowns Torres and Dueñas and newcomer Opoku jump into the fray.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club have never been afraid to play young players, but in recent weeks the youthful strategy has intensified.

16-year-old Christian Torres is the relative veteran among a crop of teenage additions getting their first competitive minutes for LAFC of late, the homegrown striker making his first career start in MLS on Wednesday in a 2-1 road loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Joining Torres on the field for that game was 19-year-old Kwadwo “Mahala” Opoku, making his second straight appearance for the black-and-gold, and defender Erik Dueñas, who made his MLS debut as a 15-year-old, just before his birthday on Sunday.

In fact, Dueñas is the youngest player in MLS since Alphonso Davies made his debut as a 15-year-old in 2016, and while no pressure kid, but Davies’ career has turned out pretty well in the meantime.

And realistically, if injuries and international absences hadn’t chipped away at LAFC’s squad in recent weeks, the teens may not have gotten a chance, but with the squad particularly thin this week, they’re taking advantage of the opportunity.

When asked how he approaches a start for the first team, Torres said the main thing for him is stay in the right frame of mind.

“I just don’t try to overwhelm myself, keep calm and just make sure my mentality is strong and right for what’s to come in the match,” Torres told reporters during pregame availability on Friday. “Nothing different I do in my pregame routines from the first team to academy. I just try to keep calm and do what I can do best.”

Opoku, signed from the Attram de Visser Academy in Ghana, with which LAFC has a partnership, is a man of few words but sounded upbeat about the level and getting his legs under him stateside.

“The level [in MLS] is good, the level is top and it’s good, it’s really good and tough. I like it,” he said in Wednesday’s postgame press conference.

Opoku was part of LAFC’s preseason training camp this year, but with the coronavirus shutdown and transfer freeze, he had to wait until just this month to officially sign his contract. The rookie thinks he can bring a lot to LAFC.

“What I want to give is my talent, my hard work and to play as a team and support as a team, be together as a team,” he said.

At 16, Torres still has to juggle other responsibilities, namely school, with his new career as a professional athlete. He was honest in admitting doing both at the same time is tough.

“Definitely those first few trainings with the team, it was definitely a way new experience,” Torres explained. “You had to adapt to new things. It’s kind of like going to school: You wake up, you go to school...But my life has changed pretty drastically. It’s been a little bit crazy. I’ve gotten the hang of it a little bit, still learning though. Handling school on top of it, it can be trouble sometimes, but making sure I don’t overwhelm myself with school and making sure I put all my focus at different times. In the mornings, it’s football. At night, it’s my schoolwork. Maybe school has been the biggest factor that has been kind of crazy handling.”

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