When Chris Klein took on the role as the Senior Director of the Los Angeles Galaxy Academy Program in January, the Academy’s U-16 team was undefeated in 11 games and the U-18 team was among the top teams in the nation in terms of points per game. Despite this, Klein knew there were still some improvements he could make to the youth program.
“I think we have implemented a number of changes,” Klein said to Goal.com on Sunday after the U-18 game about the modifications since his appointment. “We are trying to do it like a real professional academy.”
The former U.S. international thought it might take two to five years for those changes to be fully realized, but he is confident in the direction the academy is heading.
“I am happy with where we are at this point, but it needs to improve still.”
Part of Klein’s movement as Galaxy’s Academy Director is bringing the brand of the Galaxy youth program into the forefront of the Southern California soccer spectrum.
“That is what we are trying to do,” Klein said regarding the issue of pushing the emblem of the Galaxy academy. “I wouldn’t call it recruiting, but we have to establish ourselves as quality so people want to come [to our teams].”
Klein also cited the new age groups that Galaxy academy will be utilizing next year in the Southern California Developmental Soccer League. He said the club was holding tryouts on Sunday for the U-12 and U-13 teams and he was looking forward to working with the younger age groups next year.
However, currently Galaxy Academy only have two squads (U-16 and U-18), so the MLS youth program has relied on attracting some of the top talent from other clubs around Southern California. So far, they have been able to find some gems who were not on other Development Academy clubs, but playing for some historic local clubs.
Attracting some of the top talent is just part of Klein’s ideology for the academy; he also wants to push some of the best players to play against older competition. On Sunday, the success of this thought process was on full display as two 16-year-olds stole the show during the U18 game against Irvine Strikers.
“Our two 16-year-old players went out and played against the U18s today and were two of the best players out on the field,” Klein said. “That is what we want to see. We are starting to push our best players to play up [an age group]. I think we are starting to see some results from that.”
One of those youngsters is Jack McBean, the U.S. U-17 forward and recent addition to the Galaxy professional squad via the Home Grown initiative. McBean, who started his club soccer career with Slammers FC, drew a penalty kick in the come-from-behind victory for the MLS youth side on Sunday.
Galaxy U-16 Coach, Kenny Arena, said the full team requested McBean back from Florida after the U-17 CONCACAF Championship, hence his availability to compete with the U-18 squad over the weekend.
“So far, it has been pretty crazy,” McBean said to Goal.com about practicing with the full team. “It is a lot faster and more physically and mentally straining, but all the guys and coaches have been really helpful.”
“I did not want to just be practicing,” the U-17 U.S. striker said. “I wanted to play in some games. It is awesome we have a competitive under 18 team.”
McBean also said he was hopeful to make the national team roster for this summer’s U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
The other 16-year-old on the older Galaxy team is center back Matthew Tilley. The English-born defender has been on the Galaxy radar for a little while, but was unavailable to sign with the youth side.
“[Tilley] has been going on trials in England on and off for over a year,” coach Kenny Arena said. “We have had him in practices, but we never had him signed.”
Three weeks ago, Galaxy added the English youngster to their youth roster and he made his debut with the Academy on Saturday. Tilley said that the Galaxy youth structure is similar to the clubs back in England.
“Galaxy are very close to the way they run things,” Tilley said to Goal.com on Sunday when asked to compare experiences with English teams and the MLS youth system. “It is just a bit different environment being in England.”
Prior to joining the Galaxy, Tilley had been very successful in the U.S. club soccer scene with West Coast FC (another Southern California club team). The teenager won a U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship with the club in 2009 at the U-14 age group.
From his bombing runs forward to his well-struck diagonal balls, Tilley left many in attendance gushing about his performance after the game on Sunday.
“[Tilley] is very gifted, physically and mentally,” coach Kenny Arena said. “He has a desire to play professionally and when you have that desire, you want to learn all the time. We have only had him for a short period of time, but you can already see he is talented and we are going to try to help him to get better at all the little things.”
Tilley said the coaches have instructed him to be more vocal while he is on the field. He also had some lofty comparisons for which professional players he models his game after.
“I watch Pique a lot, the center back for Barcelona,” the budding talent said. “Also, I like Puyol because he is not very big, but wins a lot of headers so I see what he does to win those.”
Asked if a professional contract for their new star was in the cards, neither coach Kenny Arena nor Chris Klein wanted to put a timeline on that option.
“If it gets to that point in terms of Home Grown, we will explore that,” Arena said.
“We have a number of players who fit that bill,” Klein said when asked about the next Home Grown Player for the Galaxy. “It is how they progress and the needs of the first team [for what will determine the time table of the next Home Grown contract].”
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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