CARSON, Calif. – Former LA Galaxy standout Chris Klein said he was ready to step away from the game when he announced his retirement just prior to last year’s regular-season finale against FC Dallas.
The native of St. Louis was eager for a new challenge, and he certainly got one when the club named him Senior Director of the LA Galaxy Youth Academy Program and Special Projects on Dec. 3, 2010. It has been a whirlwind four months for one of the most popular players in MLS history, a 13-year veteran who played in 333 regular-season matches and set a league record with 118 consecutive starts.
It’s also been a rewarding time for the 35-year-old. All Klein has to do to know his efforts have been worthwhile is to watch Jack McBean train with the first team. McBean is a 16-year-old from Newport Beach who was signed on Jan. 28 as a Home Grown Player.
Klein also has high hopes for another 16-year-old, Irvine’s Matt Tilley, who is one of six academy players working out with the group of players that did not travel for the Galaxy’s three-game road trip this week.
“It’s challenging, it’s fun and I really enjoy it,” Klein said. “Throughout my career I enjoyed playing and I enjoyed working to get better, and it’s no different with what I’m doing now.”
Klein has instituted a number of changes since he took over the Academy from Trevor James, who left to take an assistant coaching job with the expansion Portland Timbers. Among Klein’s first acts was to eliminate the academy’s Under-20 team and add U-12, U-13 and U-15 squads to go along with the Galaxy’s U-14, U-16 and U-18 teams. Klein played a major role in bringing in Athletes’ Performance to work with the academy on a full-time basis and he also added a fourth day a week of training for academy players.
Klein said perhaps the biggest improvement was adding to the lines of communication with the first team, specifically head coach Bruce Arena and his staff.
“At the end of the day,” Klein said, “that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to produce the next generation of players that are going to play in that stadium (The Home Depot Center). Bruce has been excellent not only about allowing our players to train with the reserve team but really in taking an interest in what we’re trying to do.
“The signing of Jack was a good indication of the direction we’re heading, and we have more kids in our program that could possibly be next.”
Unlike his playing days, when he would arrive at The Home Depot Center around 8:30 or 9 a.m. during the week, train and then leave for his Orange County home around 1 p.m., Klein’s current schedule is far from routine. If he isn’t talking with officials at Sweden’s Hammerby IF (which is owned by AEG) early in the morning or formulating relationships with area club teams (Redondo Beach’s South Bay Force, for example), he might be involved in some business deal with AEG executives in downtown Los Angeles. If you’re lucky, he can be found, with his trusty blackberry in hand, in either his office at The Home Depot Center or a trailer located in another part of the center’s expansive, 125-acre site.
Klein said he has not been surprised at the amount of work involved in his second career. He also doesn’t miss the game as much as one might think.
“I don’t miss it at all,” he said. “It was the right time for me. I may miss certain things. Of course, I miss being around the guys and going to dinner with the guys on the road, those kinds of relationships. But I still get to see them.
“This has been about what I expected. Maybe a little different than what I thought it was going to be, but overall it’s been rewarding work. I’ve approached this the same way I approached my career. I have to work at it and it’s a huge learning experience.”