Roja League Invierno: players to watch

The Roja League is back for its winter Invierno edition with an expanded eight-team lineup taking to the field this weekend.

The action kicks off at 2pm on Saturday at Texas Women’s University with the Denton doubleheader. Reigning champions, Diablos Estudiantes, hosts FORO 360 Pro before the Denton first team takes to the field with FC Harrington at 4pm.

Sandwiched in between is a 3pm kick off over at Martin Field in Fort Worth as the Fort Worth Vaqueros entertain Irving FC. The final game of the day takes place at Fort Worth Polytechnic Senior High School with Innocentes FC welcoming Premier Legends.

Later weekends will also see games played at FORO Sports Club in North Dallas and Gateway Park in Fort Worth

There are plenty of storylines leading into the tournament. Can the Vaqueros right the ship? How will Denton respond under new coach Ramon Raya? Will the UPSL sides compete with two sides preparing for the US Open Cup? And of course, can Estudiantes shock the Metroplex again?

Aside from the storylines, here are two players from each team to look out for over the next seven weeks.

Denton Diablos

Eoin Wearen playing for Bohemians (Ryan Byrne/INPHO)

Eoin Wearen, 28
Dublin, Rep. of Ireland

Eoin Wearen made his debut for Denton Diablos in the Roja League after making the move from the Republic of Ireland earlier in the year. Growing up in the West Ham United academy alongside USMNT midfielder Sebastian Lleget, the versatile midfielder played for several years in the League of Ireland.

Facing the likes of Harry Kane, Serge Gnabry, Alvaro Morata, and Dani Carvajal gave Wearen an upbringing most elite-level players would envy.

Hayden Partain, 26
Frisco, Texas

A team-mate of future FC Dallas players Jacori Hayes and Ema Twumasi – as well as Leeds United’s Jack Harrison – Partain played four years at Wake Forest before going undrafted in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. The Solar product signed with USL Championship side Sacramento Republic, making 51 appearances in three seasons before spending 2020 with San Antonio FC.

Partain had a difficult task trying to crack a packed Spurs midfield in one of the division’s best sides and only made six appearances in the reduced season. Soccer news outlets in San Antonio felt that Partain would almost certainly be retained at Toyota Field at the end of the season.

It’s well worth keeping an eye on both Partain brothers. Harris was certainly a highlight of the inaugural Roja League in this Diablos side and has excelled in NCAA play with Tulsa.

Diablos Estudiantes

Ben Hale training with FC Dallas (Jessica Tobias / FC Dallas)

Ben Hale, 22
Garland, Texas

One of the more promising talents to come off what seems like a production line of goalkeeping prospects at FC Dallas, Hale is looking to bounce back from two tough years at Furman. Injury and the COVID-19 pandemic took much of the past two years from the Redshirt Senior.

A back-to-back USSDA National Champion with FC Dallas, one of the iconic images from the U-17/18 title was Hale celebrating on crutches after an ACL tear forced the goalkeeper to be substituted late in the final against Vancouver Whitecaps. Hale has been a regular participant at FC Dallas college camps in order to maintain his Homegrown eligibility in MLS.

Blake Willis, 21
Irving, Texas

Left back in the USSDA U-15/16 National Champion and Dallas Cup U-19 Super Group winning FC Dallas teams. Willis struggled with an ankle injury at Columbia in 2019. He’s one of a few on this list that are on Buzz’s potential homegrowns to watch.

FC Harrington

Bonilla NTSC-9-19-2020-2
Kevin Bonilla drives past Shak Adams during the 1-1 draw between North Texas SC and FC Tucson, September 19, 2020. (Craig Marcho, 3rd Degree)

Kevin Bonilla, 19
Dallas, TX

If you know the history of FC Dallas, you’ll know the number 19 is reserved for special talents and that’s Kevin Bonilla’s number for North Texas SC.

Bonilla opted to go to Portland for college after an impressive final season in the FC Dallas academy in which he won the starting right back job for North Texas SC and was called up to the US U-20 MNT.

With the sale of Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds’ impending move, Bonilla’s chances of a Homegrown deal with FC Dallas are ever-increasing.

Cesar Reyes Garcia, 18
Carrollton, TX

Considered an emerging talent in his final year in the FC Dallas academy, Garcia made an appearance for North Texas SC in the 2019 season which came with a stacked midfield.

A former US U-15 and U-17 holding midfielder who can contribute on both sides of the ball. The COVID-19 pandemic denied Garcia his freshman season with SMU.

FORO 360 Pro

Arturo Rodriguez
USL-1 Final MVP Arturo Rodriguez poses with the MVP and Championship trophies following the USL League One Final won by North Texas SC, October 19, 2019.(@CMARCHO | Craig Marcho / 3rd Degree)

Arturo Rodriguez, 21
San Luis Potosรญ, Mexico

The 2019 USL League One MVP and winning goalscorer in FC Dallas’ Dallas Cup U-19 Super Group triumph. Rodriguez looks set to leave North Texas after two stellar seasons with a step up to Major League Soccer looking unlikely.

Able to play on the wings or as a 10, it would be fun to see Rodriguez playing ahead of FCD coach and former PSG/Atletico Madrid midfielder Peter Luccin before he hopefully moves on to a USL Championship club.

Jackson Castro, 17
Plano, TX

A standout in the Solar team that won the USYS U-17 National Championship in 2019. Castro has split time between Solar’s Classic League and Developmental Academy teams over his time with the club.

A call-up to the US U-15s and a commit to Creighton for next season, it will be interesting to see the young left winger come up against stronger opposition.

Fort Worth Vaqueros

Seth Wilson, FC Dallas’ U19 goalkeeper, in action against the LA Galaxy in the 2019 DA Winter Cup at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, December 7, 2019.

Seth Wilson, 18
Frisco, TX

If Ben Hale is one of the more promising FC Dallas goalkeeping products, Wilson is arguably the most promising recently.

A former Clemson commit, Wilson trained with Real Betis and Austria Wien in hopes of securing a professional move since leaving the FC Dallas academy.

Darren Mitchell, 30
Princes Town, Trinidad

The last time I saw the Vaqueros play, a 4-1 loss to their Chisholm Trail rivals in the inaugural Roja League, Darren Mitchell was without doubt the standout player for Fort Worth. A rangy forward, Mitchell was able to get in behind the Diablos backline to cause problems.

He’ll be playing with an entirely different midfield this time around, so it will be interesting to see whether the tactic is to use his pace and intelligent runs or if the Vaqueros will use him as more of a traditional high 9 and play up to the former Trinidad & Tobago international.

Inocentes FC

Anthony Powell playing for the Mesquite Outlaws shoots against the Monterrey Flash. (Courtesy Mesquite Outlaws)

Anthony Powell, 24
Keller, TX

Innocentes top scorer last season, Powell is a technically brilliant goalscorer. The Dallas Sidekicks signed the US Futsal international with a view of creating and finishing chances they heavily lacked in the 2019/20 season.

Esai Romero, 19
Vero Beach, FL

The younger brother of former North Texas SC and Mesquite Outlaw, Oscar Romero, Esai has enrolled at Richland College where a few gems have been unearthed.

From some video I found of Romero playing for Everman HS – where he was also the kicker for the football team – he’s got quick feet, uses his body well, and can pick out a pass or shot. Given that Oscar played DA for FC Dallas, it’ll be interesting to see whether Esai is one that got away for some of the big local youth clubs.

I’m also interested in seeing Oscar Romero in the Innocentes side. After leaving North Texas SC it’ll be interesting to watch his next steps in soccer to see whether they stay on the pro/semi-pro side.

Irving FC

Diego Pareja runs with the ball for Midwestern State (MSU Athletics)

Diego Pareja, 20
Dallas, TX

Hijo de Papi! A center midfielder, similar to his father Oscar, Diego split time between the FC Dallas academy and premier teams. Contesting an aerial ball with a goalkeeper in 2017 led to a ruptured spleen, which put Pareja on the shelf for a long period.

A strong Roja League and start to his Midwestern State career would be a welcome sight for fans of his father.

Johnathan Alexander, 20
Grand Prairie, TX

A midfielder for Solar, Alexander is listed as a striker for both the University of Tulsa and Irving FC. Without a 2020 college season to look back on, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops in the tournament behind Mark Alvarado.

Premier Legends

Jaden Servania, 19
Birmingham, AL

The younger brother of FC Dallas’ Brandon Servania is under a USL Academy contract with Birmingham Legion in USL Championship.

The 19-year-old is listed as a forward for Premier Legends, but played on both wings, as a striker, and an attacking midfielder in his 17 appearances in 2020.

The two Servania brothers famously came up against each other in the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championships. Brandon represented the United States, while Jaden was called up by Puerto Rico.

Julian Hinojosa, 19
Dallas, TX

A versatile fullback, Hinjosa excelled in the FC Dallas academy earning call-ups from both the US and Mexico. Hinojosa played 13 games in his freshman year at North Carolina but sat out their reduced 2020 schedule.

Hinojosa is certainly one of the younger players with pro potential to watch for.

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