CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy has given MLS debuts this season to four players who have risen from the club's academy and USL Championship-affiliated second team, and two of them — teen sensations Efrain Alvarez and Julian Araujo — have made significant contributions.
It's a most welcome advance for a club that has rarely reaped much from its academy, but Dennis te Kloese, LA's general manager, preaches patience. The long view is what matters.
“It's getting more important [in MLS] to have younger players closer to the first team ... and I think this is something that should be looked at in a correct way,” said te Kloese, who has immense experience, primarily in Mexico, with young, developing talent. “There's no need to debut just for debuting players. [Using young players] needs to be something that is helpful and serves a longer-term project to the team and the club.”
Alvarez, a 16-year-old midfielder, came off the bench to play vital roles in both goals as the Galaxy rallied for a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire in their season opener last month. Araujo, a 17-year-old right back, has impressed in two starts while filling in for inured Rolf Feltscher and might make the XI again Sunday at home against Real Salt Lake (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US and DAZN in Canada).
French left back Diedie Traore, 20, the only one in the quartet who did not emerge from LA's academy, and 21-year-old forward Ethan Zubak also have seen time with the first team, although they've primarily played with Galaxy II.
Alvarez, a dynamic attacking midfielder and winger, also played in the Galaxy's second game, a 2-0 loss at FC Dallas, but has since been mostly with Mexico's U-17 national team as it prepares for the Concacaf championship that begins Wednesday in Bradenton, Florida. Araujo, who has made three first-team appearances, was solid in thwarting Houston's Alberth Elis last week but suffered a sprained ankle in Wednesday's scoreless draw at Minnesota United and is uncertain for Sunday. Both have played because of need — and because they were ready.
“If you look at Efrain's case, there was need in the first game of a player of his style, and I'm glad [head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto] didn't even doubt [for a] second to put him on the field,” te Kloese said. “Nor we also didn't doubt [to] have him leave for national-team duty, because it helps his development and it strengthens his position in going forward being a better player. We could use him here at the moment, but I think the decision between the coaching staff and management is what is the best decision for the player in his development at that age.
“And I think it's very comforting to see someone like Julian Araujo is able to step in if needed. ... It's very, very good to see that a guy like Julian can actually step up and play two very good games.”
Araujo, Traore and Zubak signed first-team deals ahead of this season. Alvarez signed last year.
“We expect a lot [from] them,” Schelotto said. “They are growing, they are getting more professional, taking some advice about how to be better professionals, and in the training everyday we give them a lot of [instruction] to grow. I hope maybe we have [important players] in the future.”
The key word here: future.
“When you are talking about a boy from academy, you have to talk about them week by week,” Schelotto said. “You can't imagine in the future, because they are growing, and [over] 10 days they [can be] different players.”
Several others are rising behind them. Four academy players — Guatemalan midfielder Edward Castro and American left back Kobe Hernandez-Foster and midfielders Adam Saldana and Mauricio Cuevas — are set to join Alvarez at the U-17 tournament. That experience, te Kloese says, will be valuable.
“It's something extra in their development ...,” he said. “If the games and the camps and every detail of the co-ops [between club and federation] are meaningful, these kids will benefit from it greatly, [and those that play will] have a meaningful tournament. For them to even run up against each other or having to defend their country, travel, a good professional environment, they come back and they have that as an extra experience. It helps into their development, and it makes them a little bit better than what they are.”
Te Kloese is excited about Traore, whom the Galaxy found in a French tryout, and Zubak, who joined the club's academy in 2013. Both figure to see more time with Galaxy II than with the first team this year.
“It's important to have a connection between the first team and the second team,” he said. “First of all, you have players that can have valuable minutes in a good league, in a league where our young boys run up against men, and Diedie [has done] very well. I think it shows a lot of progress, and at some point there will be more than enough games where he can be an option for our coach.
“That is probably the best thing ... if there is a possibility that the coach feels comfortable independently of the [player's] age, but more so on the quality of the talent that they have and that they can fill in a spot and they can be productive on the first team.”
Zubak, he said, “has done great ... and I think there will be options for him to play” with the first team.
“You see him on training, and he's very eager to learn,” te Kloese said. “There's still, obviously, room for him in certain ways to improve, but we did give him a contract because going toward the future — maybe later this year and probably next year — there will be room for him to make minutes and have a value on our team.”
There's no rush.
“These kids, when you sign them, it's not you sign them for two weeks,” he said. “You sign them for a process of an amount of years, and they have to work their way in. And they have to earn it. And we're not a club that now will go into all young players, no. If they're good enough, they'll have an opportunity.
“I think that's a good message also for our academy players: If you're good enough, you'll have an opportunity here.”