When new Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser announced Greg Vanney as his assistant coach, there was an unexpected bonus for the Chivas USA U18 Academy team: Eriq Zavaleta.
Zavaleta, a member of the 2009 U.S. U17 World Cup team, joined his uncle in making the jump from RSL-AZ in Casa Grande, Arizona to Chivas USA in Los Angeles, California.
Even though they went from the desert to the surf, they both spoke glowingly of their experience with the residency program in Arizona.
“There is nothing really like that in this country,” Zavaleta said about the program. “I am really proud to be one of the alums.”
While there, his uncle was his head coach and the director of the academy.
“I think every academy in the country should be looking at it,” Vanney said regarding bringing the residency setup to Chivas USA. “We saw the difference, even in our group, between the guys who were residential and the one’s who were not residential.”
The Chivas USA assistant coach did recognize that it was an expensive option but one he feels is worth it.
For the time being, though, he is concentrating on putting the right pieces together for the first team and the academy is thrilled to add his nephew to the roster.
“Oh yeah, definitely!” Chivas USA U18 coach Sacha van der Most said emphatically when asked if he was excited to add Zavaleta to his team. “He is a strong defender,” Van der Most added. “He has been with the first team during the pre-season.”
Zavaleta spent the pre-season with the full team in Arizona as he played against other MLS clubs for the Rojiblancos.
“It has been great,” Zavaleta said about training with the first team.
He thought the experience would help him in the future especially next fall when he joins the Indiana Hoosiers.
“I am really excited to be a part of [Indiana],” the defender said. “We have a lot of good players coming in and some great returning players.”
Before heading off to Bloomington, the 18-year-old is going to play with the Chivas USA U18 team in the Development Academy for the rest of the season.
His addition will bolster a squad that has conceded five goals in seven games in division play.
He will join another family connection in the defense, the Hines-Ike brothers. Brendan and Ian are the starting outside backs for the team.
Ian, 18, is the captain of the team and anchors the left side of the defense, while the younger brother, Brendan, 16, roams the right flank.
The circumstance that brought the pair from Colorado to California to play for Chivas USA were unusual.
“I was with a traveling team that happened to be out in California for a tour and we played a scrimmage against Chivas USA [Academy],” Ian told Goal.com. “I played well in the game and Sacha [van der Most] came up to me afterward and said, ‘If you are interested then we would like for you to come out for a try-out.”
Getting from Colorado back out to California for the try-out would be tricky, but eventually he managed to find a way to make the trial. And in January 2010, he made the Chivas USA Academy roster for Copa Chivas, a major youth tournament in Mexico.
After that tournament, the Chivas USA Academy and coach Van der Most wanted him on the team. They arranged a host family for Ian so he could live in California while playing for the team.
Months later, younger brother Brendan would approach Van der Most asking for a chance to impress too.
“Brendan asked me at the [Development Academy] Spring Showcase for a try-out with the club in the summer,” the coach said.
The try-out and the invitation to join the club led the father of the two to move out to California so both his boys could play for Chivas USA’s Academy without the need for a host family.
Brendan made the most of the opportunity. He earned a spot on the U16 team for the 2010-2011 season, which began in September. By the end of December, Van der Most already pushed him up to the U18 team to start alongside his older brother.
Van der Most talked about how both the brothers are very skillful, which allows the team to exemplify his style of technical play when his outside backs get forward with ease.
For the Hines-Ike family, it could be called a dream come true.
“My mom always said it was her dream to see us play on the same team,” Ian said. “She is in Colorado now, but she is coming out next month. So I am sure she will be excited.”
For the older brother, the experience is equally as rewarding.
“For me, it is really cool because I have watched him and tried to set a good path for him to follow,” the Chivas USA U18 captain said. “And now, he is right next to me.”
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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