CARSON, Calif. –The LA Galaxy Academy solidified their position as the preeminent soccer academy in Los Angeles on Saturday with a dominating performance against the Chivas USA Academy that featured wins at the U-14, U-16 and U-18 levels.
Playing at Chivas USA’s Bell Gardens Sports Complex, the Galaxy Academy trounced their local rivals in a clean sweep in all three U.S. Soccer Development Academy age groups.
“The performance for our Academy was most significant,” Galaxy Academy Director Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “While wins and losses are important, we don’t necessarily judge our growth based on that. We have a lot of younger players playing against older more experienced opponents so it’s always going to be a challenge for us. That being said, competition is part of what we’re doing and it was big for us to pick up three victories.”
The tension in the early match between the two youngest sides was heightened after Chivas U-14 head coach Brian Kleiban revealed to the club’s website that he turned down a job offer from the Galaxy, a claim that was later confirmed by Vagenas. However, the Galaxy U-14 side which is coached collaboratively by Vagena as well as academy coaches Mike Munoz and Ante Razov made quick work of Keliban’s group with a dominating 4-0 victory.
Galaxy Academy starlets Noa Harrison and Leonardo Zulli stole the show with two goals apiece, with Zulli scoring off a dazzlingly free kick to aid in the rout.
“We have a fantastic collection of young professionals training with our U-14 team. We’ve put a lot of resources and belief into that group and since [former Galaxy U-14 head coach Greg Vanney] left to take the Academy Director position with Toronto FC, and we decided as a staff to lead the team internally which was simply the best way to continue as opposed to forcing a fit at the moment,” said Vagenas. “The group has responded well and they obviously had a fantastic weekend, but more importantly, we have a lot of hopes going forward for those players next year in terms of graduating through program which is what it is all about.”
The most exciting contest of the afternoon was between the U-18 sides as the two clubs played a back-and-forth match that featured a hat trick from Academy starlet Jaime Villarreal, the little brother of Galaxy Homegrown Player Jose. After Chivas USA battled to even the score at three goals apiece, Galaxy striker Steve Martinez scored deep into stoppage time to give the LA U-18's a 4-3 win over los Rojiblancos.
“The U-18 Galaxy team is arguably the most talented team in the country. However, we’re not here to build super teams, but we’re here to provide an environment where individuals can grow and hopefully realize their dreams,” said Vagenas. “That being said, we do play matches on the weekend and it’s an important part of it. That team continues to grow and progress. They have tremendous things to look forward to in terms of a run in the playoffs and participating in Dallas Cup so in terms of the response and the training habits we couldn’t be more pleased.”
In the nightcap, the Galaxy’s U-16’s extended their USSDA unbeaten run to 20 games with a comprehensive victory over their Chivas counterparts. Rey Ortiz, Adrian Vera and Christian Onalfo, the son of Galaxy II head coach Curt Onalfo, all scored in the victory. Although the extension of the U-16’s unbeaten streak fills Vagenas with pride, the Galaxy Academy Director admits that he is constantly looking for new ways to test his charges.
“It’s a fantastic streak that they’ve got going. We have to do a better job internally of challenging them, but we are in the fortunate position of having a talented U-18 team so at the moment, it’s difficult to push some of our younger players. From a developmental sense, I don’t know if it makes sense for a team to go undefeated, but we’re very proud of that group and we hope to continue their fine form.”
Following the Galaxy Academy’s decisive weekend victories over their academy counterparts from across the hall, Vagenas distanced himself from any talk of a rivalry between the two programs. Rather, Vagenas declared that the Galaxy Academy hold themselves to a higher standard than one that puts an emphasis on defeating any other Academy side.
“We are one of the few clubs in the country that have the ability to focus internally on our product and our process knowing that if we do so within our full intentions that we can achieve our goals,” said Vagenas. “In terms of Academies in this country, we’re probably right at the top, so to say that we compare ourselves to anyone, I assure you that we don’t go about it that way.
“The proof is in the pudding because our structure, our club, and our philosophy breed an academy,” Vagenas added. “We have a standard that we set that only we can achieve and we truly believe that.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com