After 12 seasons in MLS, former Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein announced his retirement from professional soccer at the end of last season. However, his time away from the club was short, and in December he was named the Senior Director of the Galaxy Academy. In this role, Klein is responsible for overseeing the long-term financial and technical plan for the Academy, while building a strong presence in the local soccer community.
With the Galaxy’s Development Academy season resuming last weekend, we caught up with Klein to get his take on the season ahead and his outlook for the Academy going forward.
There are two new Academy teams this year with the debut of the U-12’s and U-13’s. What is the thinking behind spotting players at younger ages?
“When I came in here, I looked at the entire program and what we aimed to do and the glaring need that I thought we had was the need to get younger. The Galaxy need to start to develop kids over a period of time, not just 2-3 years as we’ve done in the past. Therefore, with the addition of an Under-12 and Under-13 team we have started that process. To do that and be able to take a kid from the time he is 11 until the time that he is 18 when we hopefully still have him, we will have had a significant impact on him not only as a soccer player, but him as an individual.”
The Academy Coaching Staff has grown significantly recently, what do all of your coaches bring to the program?
“The coaches with our older teams, Eddie Soto with the U-18’s and Kenny Arena with the U-16’s have been around the game for a long time and have coached in the college game. Then we have Craig Harrington who is overseeing the younger programs and he is a guy that has a tremendous amount of experience in the youth soccer game, which is important because that is a whole different animal than the professional game, so we’re hiring coaches that have experience in that. We brought in Billy Bizarro to coach our U-13’s and Sal Diaz to coach of U-12’s, so we feel very good about the staff we have put together. The objective of the Galaxy Academy is not to win tournaments and to win games, it is to change the model. It is to develop soccer players and individuals, not for when they are 12, 13 or 14, but when they are 18 and ready to contribute to the first team. That is what we are trying to do.
While winning is not the primary objective, it must be nice to have a team like the U-16’s who have started their season so brightly?
“Our U-16 team is very good and they have won a lot of games. The thing that impressed me when I got here is that Kenny [Arena] has done a very good job of getting them to play the right way and that’s what was important to me. They have played in an attractive style, the players were respectful and on the back of that, they won. What I have done to change that a little bit is that I’ve told Kenny and Eddie [Soto] is that we want to start challenging these players a bit more. We are pushing players that in the past were with our U-16’s, we’re pushing them to play with our U-18’s. Younger players from our U-14 and U-15’s, we’re pushing them to play with our U-16’s. Once a player has reached a point that he needs a new challenge, I’ve told the coaches that they need to move them on and they’ve done a really good job of accepting that, knowing that while it might hurt their team, it is the right thing to do for the individual player and the Academy.
Before last weekend it had been almost four months since any of the Academy teams had played a game, how excited were those players and the coaches to get back on the field?
“The coaches and our staff feel that training is more important than the games, but these are kids and they love to play and the reason that they have gotten to where they are is because they love to play the game. You could see it in their faces, they were tired of training against one another and they were ready to get out onto the field and play games.”
This article was originally published in the LA Galaxy Gameday Program. Be sure to pick up one of the new Gameday Programs, filled with exclusive content, match info and fun facts, the next time you're at The Home Depot Center for a Galaxy home match!