Ruben Duran hopes he can take Eldorado's boys soccer team far into the playoffs.
That pales in comparison to where he already has been.
The senior forward joined Sundevils teammate Antonio Murrillo and 38 other prospects last year at U.S. Soccer's Under-17 National Team residency program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The program, founded in 1999, has hosted more than 300 players, including more than 100 Major League Soccer players and 19 senior members of the U.S. men's national team.
"It was a very good experience for me," Duran said. "I learned a lot. They teach you the basics, and the little details that make a difference in the future. That's how we trained every single day. Interacting with top coaches from the nation was awesome. Every day, they pushed you. They weren't afraid to tell you the truth. And that made us improve a lot."
The program consisted of a soccer-focused regime from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., including an early morning weightlifting program and practice until 11 before lunch and classes at nearby St. Stephens Episcopal School.
The players trained at world-class facilities, including three Bermuda grass fields, an indoor facility and two large pools, along with weight rooms and on-campus housing and dining.
But Duran saw little of the facilities when he wasn't practicing every morning.
"We had to be under supervision. They didn't want us messing around, or wearing our bodies out," he said. "The routine was very hard. It was very humid, and you were so drained, you didn't want to work out. On the weekends, sometimes we'd just mess around and play."
A highlight for Duran was selection to the 24-man roster for the U-17 youth national team's trip to Madrid last September. The trip included tickets to a Real Madrid match, a visit with Spanish national teamers Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, and matches against youth teams from Real Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Spain's U-17 national team.
"That trip was the best trip ever," Duran said. "It gave me goosebumps being there, to be able to walk into the stadium in Madrid and see Spain playing there. I felt like I was with the big-time players now."
Duran said he gained a renewed focus on improving the small details of his technical game, which has paid immediate dividends for Eldorado.
The Sundevils qualified for the Sunrise Region playoffs last year but were knocked out in the first round by Tech.
With the return of top scorers Luis Cruz and Jesse Marta, as well as Duran and Murrillo, Eldorado (3-1-1, 2-0 Northeast) sprinted to a strong start this year in its race for the postseason.
"They brought a lot of positive energy from (the U-17 program)," Eldorado coach Gerald Pentsil said. "The guys were excited to get them back. We had a decent team last year, but they knew adding those guys would make them even better.
"Sometimes that can go the opposite way; when you have good players, they can be selfish and think the other guys are below them. But Ruben doesn't play that way. He's one of our top (players) in assists. He also works well with the others."
Duran, who plays midfielder for the national team, has 10 goals and five assists to rank among the Southern Nevada leaders in both categories, making him a "perfect complement" to Cruz, Pentsil said.
"We don't stress individuals, but team all the way," Pentsil said. "We let them know, even with Ruben ... it's about the team. If you play well within a team concept, good things will happen to you individually."
After learning from the past, Duran has his eye on the future -- for Eldorado's postseason and beyond.
"I can't wait for playoffs," said Duran, who has committed collegiately to Cal Poly. "I want to see how far we can go with the team we got."
Contact reporter Sean Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430.