There has been a common response from U16 Development Academy coaches when asked who the best team they have played this year was: “LA Galaxy.” Given the young Galaxy side’s record (10-0-1) and goal differential (+25), it is no revelation that their opposition thinks so highly of them.
The actual shock is seeing the team play: high pressure, win the ball quickly, and spring into the attack. It is something you rarely see done this well in the Development Academy - a credit to the passion and focus of head coach Kenny Arena and his staff.
“Our job is to try to get every player we have to become the best they can,” coach Arena said to Goal.com in a phone interview last Wednesday. Drawing the most out of his players, plus a taxing style of play makes this team demanding for any opposition. It is also a credit to his players who have readily accepted his coaching philosophy.
“Trying to challenge the kids to play in the hardest way possible,” coach Arena said about his team’s playing style. “Defensively that is pressing up and trying to win the ball back at higher spots up the field.”
After his team wins the ball, it is an instant transition from defense to offense. A fundamental so well practiced that it really separates the Galaxy from the pack. As most teams are not accustomed to the blitz-attack once they release possession of the ball, the slightest hesitation opens just enough of a cavity for the opportunistic Galaxy attack.
Offensively, coach Arena noted that he likes his team to keep the ball on the ground to generate chances. It is not his preference to see his team just boot the ball forward in a route one attack. Instead, his team looks to profit from quick passing and fluid off-the-ball movement.
“Challenge them to think and play at the highest level possible,” Arena said about his goals as a coach. “If we do that with the kids that we’re getting, I think years down the line you’ll start to see results in terms of guys being ready to join the first team and help out there.”
A possibility of a player who could be ready to join the first team in a couple years is center midfielder William ‘Willie’ Raygoza. The adroit attacking mid is the catalyst of the Galaxy success as one of the highest scoring teams in the country.
“He is one of the better overall soccer players that I’ve gotten to work with in my short time with the Galaxy,” his coach said. “He has a natural ability to go a long way. His desire to get better and play the game the right way is great for the team, and I think he is going to be pretty successful one day.”
Raygoza is just one of the many talented players on this team, which is another indication of the MLS club’s Academy’s initial success.
“If they end up making it to the full team, great,” Arena said about the talented players on his squad but did caution, “There is a lot depending on that that is out of our control.”
In the heavily saturated Southern California club soccer market [that includes ten Development Academy clubs in a 150 mile range], Galaxy have attracted some of the best talent to their program.
“We try to do that in a respectful manner,” Arena said regarding recruiting. “It has not been recruiting as much as the players want to come to us and [we see] how they fit in with the club.”
Arena pointed to the work of newly appointed Senior Director of the Academy, Chris Klein, as doing a great job in general advancing the youth club.
“[Klein] is a hard worker and he is great with people,” Arena said. “On the soccer side of it, he has obviously played at every level possible, so he knows the game. And it has been a great learning experience for me to work with him.”
As for Klein helping with the synergy of the two Academy teams and linking with the first team, Arena called it a work in progress.
“I think over time, we will all have very similar styles,” the former University of Virginia standout said. “There will always be differences based on the players you have and the coaches. I think we are getting there where both teams will try to adapt the same concept.”
While Arena looks to the future for the club and his players, there is some question about his future. As the coach of one of the best teams in the Development Academy and a top assistant at one of the finest collegiate programs [UCLA], there is some intrigue about what is next for the tactician.
“My goal right now is to coach as much as possible,” he said about his future. “When those opportunities [college head coach position] come, hopefully I am as prepared as possible.”
For the time being, Arena said he really enjoys what he is doing both in the Academy and college. The coach and his squad will put their undefeated streak on the line this weekend against Pateadores and Irvine Strikers as the team re-enters Development Academy play.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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