When recently retired MLS veteran Chris Klein was appointed senior director of the LA Galaxy Academy program and special projects last December, his task was to build the team’s academy and revamp it as he saw fit.
And Klein has jumped in head-first during his first few months on the job, leading an overhaul of the current Academy system that has included initiatives such as expanding the number of pre-Academy teams, tweaking the training curriculum and, most importantly, creating a smooth line of communication with the senior side.
“The first thing I wanted to do was establish a more seamless relationship with the first team,” he told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “And Bruce [Arena] and his staff have been excellent with that.”
That initiative has already started to pay off just this past week. While the Galaxy have been out of town on a East Coast road swing, six Academy players trained with the reserves who remained in LA. Being able to do that gives a standard to measure against.
“That’s invaluable for our guys, to get the experience of training at the highest level against players that are real pros,” Klein said. “It lets us know from an evaluation standpoint where we’re at, where these players are at, and where they need to get to.”
Along with tweaking the relationship with the first team, Klein also said he wanted to bring in players at a younger age, instead of recruiting them to play for the U-16 and U-18 Development Academy teams.
“I saw that we needed to get younger, to start developing kids from a younger age because, what I saw, we were just recruiting players at 16s and 18s,” he said.
The idea behind that is to train players a certain way from a younger age. As a result, the Academy has expanded to field teams of players ages 12 to 15, with the aim to develop these players for the Development Academy level once they reach the right age.
One of the problems with fielding younger teams was where they would play. Klein said they had been unable to get a team into an existing league. As a result, a handful of West Coast-based programs formed the Southern California Developmental Soccer League with the likes of Chivas USA, Cosmos West and Nomads SC to improve the competition.
Because Klein’s arrival was essentially at mid-season, he hasn’t made a complete change of the training curriculum. It’s something that he plans to address in the near future as he continues to learn about his new position and how to best develop future Galaxy players.
While Klein believes that a residency might not be a necessity down the road – most players live within 50 miles of the Home Depot Center – what he does want to do is foster a close-knit Academy group and develop players well prepared for either a collegiate or professional future.
“We want to create a true family environment here, where we’re getting kids here for longer periods of time, where we’re not just able to get them here, put them on a training pitch and send them home,” he said.