En Route: Chivas USA Academy’s Blends The Ages To Help Development

A look at what makes Chivas USA’s Academy successful in advancing players.
On Saturday night, Chivas USA U18 coach Sacha van der Most, who also serves as the Academy Director, trotted out a handful of players born in 1994 or 1995 [meaning they are eligible to play for the club’s U16 squad] to face off against cross-town rivals Cosmos Academy West in an important conference game.

With the U18 squad sitting in fourth place in the SoCal Division and the ninth spot in the national wild card playoff standings, most coaches would have leaned on an older lineup to secure the result.

That is not the case with Van der Most and the Chivas USA Academy. His confidence in his players – for the 15-year-olds to the 18-year-olds - makes circumstances like the one on Saturday night a lesson for his team in their road to become better players.

 “I always compare it with lifting weights,” the coach told Goal.com after the game about playing the young players up an age group. “If you are lifting weights and always do the same weight, you are not going to get much better. But if you add some resistance, you are going to get better.”

He went on to use that analogy to demonstrate why playing 15 and 16-year-olds up an age is helping their development.

“That is the same with (soccer) or any other sport,” the Dutch native said. “If you are doing good at one level and you are good enough to go to the next level, I think it is better to move you up to the next level.”

So, the coach decided to regularly bring up some of the younger players from the U16 squad to bolster his older team - one of those players is starting forward Christian Carrillo, born in 1995, who went the full 90 against Cosmos.

“[Carrillo] has been playing with us since the winter break,” the coach said. “He took his chance. When he started playing with us, he got in that spot as the number nine [and did well].”

Carrillo was unable to find the back of the net on Saturday as the game ended 0-0 but the talent is clearly there for a 15-year-old playing against defenders three years older.

“[He was] unlucky tonight but he is a player who can finish some chances,” Van der Most added.
The U.S. national team eligible striker had one specific moment of brilliance during the game at Santa Ana Municipal Stadium.

With two defenders converging on Carrillo near the corner flag, he appeared to be on the brink of receiving a harsh challenge from the opposition who had been chasing him throughout the first half.

However, a quick drag of the ball with his left cleat and a flick of the ball with his right foot left his marks staring at turf as the forward exploded past them. 

The chance fizzled on a blocked shot, but the [abnormally large Development Academy] crowd was still boisterous over the dazzling touch of skill by the youngest player on the field.

“[Castillo] is a good player and I like having him on this team,” his forward partner, Daniel Castro, told Goal.com after the game about the youngster. “He puts in work at practice and gives it his all in the games.”

Castro in his own right has done very well this season with 10 goals in 16 Development Academy games. His play with the academy team has garnered interest from the full team.

The 18-year-old forward said he had already joined the full team twice during pre-season this year. 

With the full team’s head coach Robin Fraser and assistant coach Greg Vanney in attendance on Saturday night, Castro made a loud statement about getting another look.

In the dying moments of the game, left back Ian Hines-Ike sent in a perfectly weighted cross to the far-post for him. The forward hit the ball out of the air flawlessly on a full-volley. It zoomed past the frozen Cosmos keeper but missed the inside of the net by inches. The hollow clang of the post echoed throughout stadium as the home side settled for a scoreless draw. 

“It is the third game like this where we take apart the other team but can’t put the ball in the net,” Van der Most rued after the game. “The result was unfortunate.”

Although unlucky in the result, the game did entertain the bipartisan crowd with an attractive blend of soccer from the home side.

“We always try to play with possession and knock the ball around,” the Rojiblancos Academy coach said about his team’s style of play. “We create a lot of chances, but the last few weeks it hasn’t been going our way.”

 Coach Vanney appeared pleased with what he saw from the team.

 “There is a good foundation for which to build from and continue to grow,” he remarked to Goal.com about the academy during half time of the U18 game. “We are looking at individual players now to see if any of them have a future to help the first team.”

One of the points that both Vanney and Van der Most highlighted was linking the first team to the Academy. Van der Most said the two Academy teams already utilize a similar playing style to make the transition from U16 to U18 easy for the players, which he anticipates will be the same with the full team in the fray.

The Academy coach also added that Chivas USA Technical Director Nick Theslof, Vanney, and himself plan to discuss the best way to get everyone on the same page in the coming weeks now that the full team is back in California. 

It should come as no surprise, given Vanney’s history with youth soccer as the Technical Director of Real Salt Lake – Arizona, that Fraser and he are placing an emphasis on the academy teams.

“[The youth team] is really important to the club as a whole,” Vanney added.

  • Vanney’s nephew and former RSL-AZ Academy player, Eriq Zavaleta, will make his debut with the Chivas USA U18 team on Friday against New Zealand’s U21 squad according to Van der Most.
  • Vanney said as he understands the rules, Zavaleta will not qualify as a Home Grown Player for Chivas USA because he needs to play for the academy for a year.
  • Zavaleta is set to join Indiana University in the fall. He told Goal.com that he visited the campus last week and was excited to get to work with coach Todd Yeagley in the near future.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer

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