CARSON, Calif. — Chivas USA’s youth academy is undergoing a major restructuring project and has added some big names to aid in the development.
The recently retired Jimmy Conrad has joined the club's academy following the recent merger with the New York Cosmos West program. The longtime MLS defender has taken up an active role alongside the club's new director of youth development, Teddy Chronopoulos. Conrad and Chronopoulos will now oversee a youth program based on a coaching curriculum written by head coach Robin Fraser and assistant coach Greg Vanney.
Conrad has put an emphasis on recruiting and the business aspects of the game, but he admits the transition from the field hasn’t always been an easy one.
“It’s not what I envisioned when I stopped playing, but it's challenging," Conrad recently told MLSsoccer.com. "We took over a club, Cosmos West, who already had some things in place along with a number of people that we trust. The curriculum that Greg and Robin put together is very sound and it’s been proven. Now we just need to get it started, which is the hardest part.”
Similar to youth programs in Europe, the new Chivas USA youth system will preach a uniform playing style that will be consistent from the U-9 level all the way to the senior team. Doing the actual instruction will be a pair of former MLSers, Mike Muñoz and Dan Calichmann, who will join the coaching staff at the U-16 and U-18 levels, respectively.
Meanwhile, Vanney and Conrad will serve as liaisons between the first team and the youth program to ensure that when a young player is ready for an opportunity, he’ll get his chance either as a reserve or with the senior team.
“We're trying to make it so by the time they're 12 to 15, they should know the basis of how we want to play,” said Conrad. “If we ever want to put them in a drill then they know what we're asking. That will take some time, but that's what we're asking.”
The emphasis on youth development is nothing new for the organization as the strategy of focusing on the academy has been a hallmark of Chivas de Guadalajara for a number of years. Since Fraser’s hiring at the start of the season, youth development has been a major pillar of the organization’s new philosophy.
Fraser has already shown a willingness to give former youth products a chance. For example, midfielder Jorge Flores has seen considerable time for Chivas USA this season.
“It goes with the strategy that we’re going to build from youth rather than going to market,” club GM José Domene told MLSsoccer.com “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop going to market, but our strategy is to start to build from the youth, and that’s where we will get our base and the base as a team.”
The task ahead for the new-look academy will be challenging as it will need to compete for talent with both the revitalized LA Galaxy academy and Mexican clubs eager to acquire American standouts. But with a curriculum in place and a number of high-profile members leading the fight, those at Chivas USA are confident they have a base from which to build success.
“Players can come from anywhere in Los Angeles,” said Vanney. “The great thing about our system now and before is it’s not about how much money that you have, it’s do we believe that you can be professional. We want to get you in and give you our resources to help you take those steps.
“It’s exciting,” Vanney added. “It’s our job to make sure that every possible pro-potential player has an opportunity to try and get in our academy and develop.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org