CARSON, Calif. – When Peter Vagenas was a young soccer player growing up in Pasadena, Calif., the dream of a professional soccer career seemed farfetched. After all, it was not until 1996—when Vagenas graduated from Saint Francis High School— that a professional soccer league existed in the United States.
Now after completing a professional career that spanned 12 years, the 35-year-old is looking to provide a future for the elite soccer playing youth of Southern California. Vagenas was named the club’s Academy Director in June, placing him in charge of the club’s youth setup, which has existed since 2008.
Although Vagenas took the position a month ago, he began to discuss the possibility of taking up a role within the club with Galaxy President, and former Academy Director, Chris Klein while he was still playing.
“I always knew that I wanted to be involved with the Galaxy in some capacity, so when the opportunity presented itself it was an easy decision for a number of reasons,” Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com “I had a long history with the club, being a kid from Pasadena and growing up in the area and being able to make the transition to the local professional team is something that I’ve taken great pride in. The ability to help kids realize their dreams from this area, like I did mine, is at the heart of what I’m trying to do.”
Overseeing Vagenas’ in his bid to develop the Galaxy’s newest crop of talent is the club’s Technical Director Jovan Kirovski. Vagenas’ former teammate with the Galaxy during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Kirovski has been a frequent presence at academy functions including spearheading the creation of an Under-23 squad this summer.
As the pair looks to build the Galaxy Academy, they are in constant communication with Vagenas admitting that he speaks to Kirovski “more than any person in [his] life at the moment.” However, that doesn’t mean that the two friends can’t have lively discussions about academy strategy and tactics.
“The lines are clear that he’s the technical director, so I want Jovan’s hands all over the Academy like it should be,” said Vagenas. “At the end of the day, Jovan is responsible for the biggest transition, which is getting players to the first team. We see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I think that we can be productive and disagree at times. That being said, we both realize the potential of this academy.”
Vagenas has already sought about recreating the Galaxy Academy in his own image with the hiring of former Chivas USA Under-16 head coach Mike Munoz. The Galaxy’s newest academy coach was a teammate of Vagenas with the Galaxy during the 2008 season, and also coached at Chivas while his new boss was in the midst of his final playing days.
The addition of Munoz was important to Vagenas’ plans with the Galaxy Academy as he readily admits that the club has aspirations of assembling the “best staff in the United States.” The desire to work with the club goes both ways; however, as Munoz readily admits that once he had the opportunity to work with Vagenas, he jumped at the chance.
“I’m very excited about Pete being the Academy Director,” Munoz told LAGalaxy.com. “I loved his vision for this club and where he wants to take the Academy, especially with the full support of [Galaxy head coach and general manager] Bruce Arena and Jovan Kirovski. It was a no-brainer after that.”
While it’s the oldest age groups (Under-18 and Under-16 especially) that get the lion share of the attention from the media due to their proximity to the first team, Vagenas is quick to stress that the youngest players in the Academy are the most important. This means that the Academy Director is in contact with U-12 and U-13 Technical Director Mauricio Cienfuegos and U-14 head coach Ante Razov.
With the goal of reaching players at the youngest age possible and moving them forward in the Galaxy environment, Vagenas believes that the Academy will be able to produce the best quality players to contribute to the first team.
“Being that our Academy is relatively young, the point is to be able to build in your system, so the most important ages are your base teams which are your younger groups,” said Vagenas. “If you can get these kids at an impressionable age, like we’re trying to do, starting with our U-12s and establish the tangible stuff that they can see leads up to our first team then it can be easier for them to transition as they get older. For us to be able to train kids at 10 or 11-years-old and assimilate them into this environment that we’re creating, it should serve as a natural progression."
As he looks to develop future Galaxy players from Pasadena or Inglewood, Bell or San Fernando, Vagenas believes that he’s ready for the challenge ahead.
“The honest truth is that we are all fortunate to be part of the LA Galaxy. We are the biggest club in MLS. And as was my aspiration as a teenager when MLS started; everyone wants to be a part of MLS,” said Vagenas. “In that aspect, we have a lot of interest heading our way, but that also puts a huge burden on our shoulders because we have to live up to those standards, but it’s our goal that kids do not slip through the cracks.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com