Chivas USA have an ambitious project to become a power in MLS, and central to those plans is the growth of their youth program.
The young Goats shined at the recent Generation adidad Cup, but were unable to pick up a championship at either the U-17 or U-15 levels. The U-17s picked up a third place finish after losing 3-1 to the LA Galaxy in the semifinals, while the U-15s fell to the New York Red Bulls 3-2 in the final.
While the young Rojiblancos did not bring home a title, they were able to bring silverware home, as U-17 forward Kevin de la Torre scored nine goals during the GA Cup, a tournament record. De la Torre managed his haul even while missing a game-and-a-half during the Cup with a hamstring injury.
“He's very skillful and knows how and when to use it at what moment,” Chivas USA director of youth development Sacha van der Most told MLSsoccer. “And besides being skillful, he's fast as well, and when he gets in front of the goal, he's a clinical finisher. The way that he can finish is something special and you just don't see that often, and it shows.
“If you score nine goals in five games in a tournament, then it's something special.”
The success of de la Torre and the rest of his team was a beacon of hope for an organization that has eagerly promoted its commitment to youth development. Chivas USA still face extensive competition, however, to lure more players like de la Torre away from the U-17 GA Cup champions, the LA Galaxy.
Under the leadership of former Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein, the Galaxy youth program has appeared revitalized, winning the GA Cup as well as the U-16 US Soccer Developmental Academy title.
The Galaxy went undefeated at the GA Cup with a host of new arrivals, U-17 World Cup veterans, and members of the Developmental Academy team highlighting a powerful roster. U-17 World Cup veterans Esteban Rodriguez and Mario Rodriguez and two-time US Development Academy player of the year Raul Mendiola were instrumental for the Galaxy during their week in Texas.
While the Galaxy had success with their highly touted youth stars, van der Most stated that Chivas USA have their own vision.
“We've got a different philosophy. I could have gotten on my phone myself to get players, who have gone out of the national team program, but I don't think that's specifically youth development, its good recruiting,” van der Most said. “It works for them and it's a good way to get the most talented players to play for you, but I think that there's a lot of talent in the LA area. If you saw the game between us and the Galaxy, we weren't much less than the Galaxy with mostly players who have been in our program.”
The Galaxy are not the only challengers that the Rojiblancos must deal with in their attempt to develop young talent in Southern California. Both van der Most and Klein must deal with Mexican clubs that are eager to scoop up young talent, promising riches and the exposure in the Mexican Primera Division.
Recently, Club Tijuana stated that the acquisition of young talent north of the border was central to their goals of becoming a power in Mexico. The practice of Mexican clubs coming into Southern California is not new, but is one that gives MLS clubs pause.
Van der Most bemoaned the fact that a developmental fee is not required in the United States like it is in other countries, allowing players to move freely from MLS academies to anywhere around the world.
“The key is keeping players here, that they're not going to be grabbed by countries all around the world. The NCAA and the policies are not helping,” van der Most said. “If these issues did not exist then Chivas USA would have a lot more creditability in terms of youth development. We would have had a lot more players playing for our first team if we wouldn't have lost them to other clubs in South America and Europe."
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano