Erik Duenas is certain of a few things in the week leading up to his second Generation adidas Cup finals appearance with LAFC.
He knows this go around in the GA Cup will be different. He knows it will take hard work. And he knows he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure everyone knows what his Club is all about by the end of the tournament.
What he doesn’t know is who his brothers will support when LAFC goes up against one particular side in the tournament.
“They support Chivas of Guadalajara,” Duenas said of his older brothers. "My family is from Mexico and I know some Mexican teams. It’s great that we are going against Liga MX teams. I don’t know who they’re going to choose to support. They support me, but they support their team. So, I don’t know how it’s going to be.”
The introduction of a U15 Liga MX-MLS tournament is one of the most highly anticipated features of 2019 GA Cup finals held in Frisco, Texas from April 13 - 20. As one of four MLS academy teams qualifying for the right to play in this year’s finals, LAFC will face the likes of Cruz Azul, Monterrey, and Club Leon, in addition to Chivas.
Despite his brothers' conflicting allegiances, family has been important to the defender's journey with LAFC. He’s one of the few around the Academy that can claim to have seen it all, having been one of the original members of the first U12 team and taking part in LAFC’s first GA Cup experience back in 2016.
Now into his third season, Duenas has had his share "ups and downs." Even to the point where he didn’t know if he’d be around to participate in another GA Cup with LAFC.
Duenas found himself outside of the starting 11 often last season. He knew his performances weren’t up to par with the rest of the team. At one time, he thought he might not be with the Club much longer.
"There’s a lot of competition. So last season, I didn’t really start, and I like to end the season well,” Duenas said. "At the end of the season, I kept pushing myself to get the opportunity to start.”
The defender’s hard work has paid off this season. Duenas has started 14 of 20 U15 matches, including the first two matches of the final weekend of GA Cup qualifying. With qualification secured in the final match of the weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Duenas didn’t start but it was his introduction to the match just after halftime that broke open a 0-0 stalemate for LAFC.
Duenas caught his opposite number waiting on a slack pass out of the back. Closing the 15 yards of space in an instant, Duenas dispossessed the Whitecaps defender before he could take a second touch. He finished the move with a pinpoint cutback to set up LAFC’s first goal of the match.
Behind Duenas’ lead, LAFC found a second moments later, putting the match to bed despite a late consolation tally from Vancouver in the dying minutes. LAFC finished the weekend as the top qualifier, securing its spot in the impending GA Cup finals.
"I’ve come through a lot of obstacles during the time I’ve been with the team. And it’s not easy, but you’ve got to challenge yourself to step up the game and keep working hard to maintain your performance,” Duenas said.
Referencing his family once more as the driving force behind him this season, Duenas adds one more thing to the list of what he’s sure of leading up to his second GA Cup finals appearance.
"My mindset now is to keep showing what this Club means to the players and the staff,” Duenas said. "And to be known everywhere.
"And to win."