FRISCO, Texas — The long and winding road finally came to a thrilling end this weekend for the LA Galaxy’s U-17 Academy team.
Sunday’s win at the 2011 Generation adidas Cup marked the end of a grueling, 10-month schedule for the club’s Under-17 group, and the icing on the cake for what has been one of the best youth programs in the nation over that time.
“I’m proud, obviously, that we won, but [also] the way that we did it,” LA Galaxy Academy director Chris Klein said. “This is a very difficult tournament with the number of games over a short amount of time. Our staff did an excellent job of managing this group, and for us, it’s the end of a long but successful season for this age group of players.”
Success has become something this group of players has become used to, as they captured three titles on the year. When the final whistle blew to end LA’s 2-0 win over FC Dallas at the Generation adidas Cup, the celebration was somewhat tempered; this was clearly familiar territory for the group.
“I was reminded by the guys we won the treble — we won the SoCal division, we won the [Development Academy] national championship and we won the [Generation adidas Cup],” head coach Kenny Arena said. “It’s been a great year.”
Arena, the son of LA first-team head coach Bruce, guided the U-16s through the Development Academy season and earned plaudits from Klein after guiding the U-17 group to another title.
“Over the year, I believe he’s shown that he’s one of the best young coaches that we have,” Klein said. “The way that he’s managed a difficult group with a lot of talented players not only through our academy season, but the playoffs, finals week, to come right for this Generation adidas Cup, he’s done a very, very good job and our program is much better for it.”
The group playing at the Generation adidas Cup this past week in Frisco had a bit of a different look to it. The core of the U-16 national title was there, with Matthew Tilley, Sebastian Velasquez, Grady Howe and brothers Justin and Sean Dhillon.
But LA also adapted a number of top talents in the Southern California area who Klein said will be joining the Academy in the fall for the next season. The new group includes a handful of US U-17 representatives — Nathan Smith, Mario Rodriguez, Esteban Rodriguez and Paul Arriola, along with Development Academy Player of the Year Raul Mendiola.
The long road of this season has taken them around Southern California, down to Frisco for the Development Academy playoffs, up to Milwaukee for Finals Week and back down to Pizza Hut Park for the Generation adidas Cup.
For the players, it’s been an exhausting road well worth the trip.
“To see also that hard work pays off in a final for another championship is really something special,” midfielder Grady Howe said.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.
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