There's been some pretty great content coming out about the Chivas USA Academy, that orphaned program that no longer has a parent organization, in recent days.
First, I'd urge you to read Liviu Bird's profile of Chivas USA's Academy, particularly the exploits of the U-14 team and coach Brian Kleiban, on SI.com from last week. Among the eye-opening details are interest in keeping the CUSA U-14 team intact by extraordinary means, whether that means moving them under the U.S. Soccer umbrella somehow or having them be some kind of superteam in the USSDA system, possibly outside of other Development Academy prospects. Also, it's unsurprising that the motivation levels among the U-16 and U-18 teams is flagging, since there's no direct path to the pros and total uncertainty about the program's future.
And then on Tuesday, Top Drawer Soccer's J.R. Eskilson published an interview with Kleiban and another CUSA Academy coach, Andrew May, about their approach in trying times and what is working despite the circumstances.
Both articles are really great reads, and you should check them out. They bring to mind a few talking points.
First, it seems pretty likely that the widely celebrated U-14 squad will remain largely intact in the years to come. Why? Because of their coach. Unless Kleiban moves into coaching college or pros or gets out of coaching altogether, his players are by and large going to follow him. That means he's the pivotal figure, arguably in all of Southern California youth soccer, right now. He already brought this group into the Chivas USA academy, as explained in Bird's profile. And as observers are well aware, coaches can move, and move players with them, relatively easily -- that's what happened with Mike Munoz and his pretty successful U-16 Chivas USA team in 2013. After Munoz moved to the Galaxy that summer, nearly all of that age group's key players, including the only pro to this point from that cohort, Bradford Jamieson IV, moved to the Galaxy between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 USSDA seasons.
In much the same way, if there's a team in the region, whether that's the Galaxy or an independent academy, that offers Kleiban a deal he likes, he can certainly move to that club and bring his players with him, especially if those players will be free to move around with CUSA's Academy officially out of business. Certainly, the USSDA could make an exceptional case for this particular U-14 team and let them do their thing independent of any academy, but that's not necessarily essential.
What about the logical step, at least in the mind of many outsiders (including yours truly), and starting the LAFC Academy for the 2015-16 USSDA season? Bird's article quotes LAFC president Tom Penn about the academy situation:
"It's difficult for me to speak to the specific plans with the Chivas academy that's being operated by MLS, because we did not acquire that franchise. The league terminated that parent franchise; they're operating the academy," team president and part-owner Tom Penn tells SI.com. "What I can tell you is that our commitment to a robust academy worthy of this marketplace - in the right place, at the right time, with the right resources - is integral to our plan."
Penn says meetings with those across the youth landscape in the Los Angeles area leave him with the impression that LAFC will have no trouble attracting top young players.
"In this market, there's just so much opportunity and so much talent," he says.
Obviously, nobody wants to see LAFC rush into starting an academy haphazardly, and he's right in that there's lots of talent in the region.
But starting an academy sooner rather than later means the club will be entering MLS without a massive disadvantage. And beyond that, with a successful youth coach leading a very well-regarded group of players who won't be ready for the pros for several years looking for a new academy, it's absolutely logical to have LAFC begin a skeleton academy next season with that group. After all, they won't be building from scratch, and suppose they can enter the Development Academy with Kleiban's group, one with years of experience together and an excellent track record to date.
I asked one of Eskilson's colleagues at Top Drawer Soccer, Travis Clark, about the feasibility of LAFC starting a Development Academy program without necessarily having to form a U-18 team in year one. Clark told me last week that he was not aware of any rules in the USSDA that stated a start-up MLS academy would need to have U-13/14, U-15/16, and U-17/18 teams in the league in the first year. Provided U.S. Soccer would allow Chivas USA's Academy to fully dissolve in June, then have LAFC's Academy start in July with Kleiban's current U-14 team the only age group to enter play for the new Academy in 2015-16, LAFC is off to a great start, and still have time to build out their youth program to other age levels.
Nobody expects LAFC to have Homegrown signings for 2017. But if they delay in starting an Academy program -- say they don't set up an Academy until 2016-17, or even 2017-18 -- they may not have Homegrown players signing until 2019, or 2020. And if Homegrown players are becoming more and more important to MLS player acquisition strategies, as they have been for several years already, then LAFC is going to be behind the eight ball, the longer they wait to establish their youth program.
Obviously LAFC does not want to have any association with Chivas USA. But for as much as they want to distance themselves with all of the dysfunctional and mismanaged aspects of the former MLS side -- and there were many -- it would be foolish to completely ignore the one aspect that worked well over a number of years, producing several professional players, even despite the organization's upheaval. Here's hoping LAFC doesn't throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!