Yesterday the L.A. Galaxy's U-18 squad arrived in Madrid with the opportunity to participate in the club's first ever international tournament, the Real Sociedad XXVII's Youth Invitational. With an itinerary designed specifically for the team by adidas International Training Program (adidas ITP), the L.A. Galaxy will spend a week training at some of the world's finest facilities as they are introduced to a culture that exudes the sport.
While the Galaxy are famed for changing Major League Soccer's landscape with the signing of the first designated player, David Beckham, it is often forgotten that they may have made an even greater impact on the direction of the league with the signing of the first ever homegrown player, Tristan Bowen.
This U-18 team includes the Galaxy's next two homegrown players, Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean. The depth beyond the professionals is even more impressive with featured U.S. youth internationals and topdrawersoccer.com ranked players like William Reygoza, Mario Rodriguez, Jaime Villarreal and Jevan Torre. As the 2011 Generation adidas cup victors at the U-16 level, this Galaxy side earned the honor of participating in the Real Sociedad Youth Invitational. Now the Galaxy U-18's will represent their club, Major League Soccer, and the evolution of the sport in America well displayed at MLS academies.
Alfonso Mondelo, as MLS's Director of Player Programs, is actively attempting to see through this transformation at the academy level.
"MLS academies must strive to become top class centers of development where great care and attention is paid to all stages of a player's development," Mr. Mondelo told adidas ITP. "Typically players that are developed in the best environments usually are more well-rounded and have a higher chance for success. It is a very similar analogy to obtaining a Harvard education or [an education] at a community college."
The L.A. Galaxy have installed this philosophy within their academy by accumulating the best players from talent rich Southern California. Players like Jose Villarreal, formerly a star at Pateadores, join the Galaxy Academy for the professional opportunity and resources that other academies can't offer. The opportunity to play and train at some of the world's elite facilities, such as the Spanish Federation's grounds at “Ciudad del Futbol,” reflect upon the offerings of the burgeoning L.A. Galaxy Academy.
During their program developed by adidas ITP, the Galaxy will train at “Ciudad del Futbol,” attend the Real Madrid vs. APOEL Champions League match, and square up against Rayo Vallecano's Academy squad before traveling to San Sebastian for the Real Sociedad Youth Invitational. Fully immersed in the soccer culture of Spain, the Galaxy squad will further their development on the pitch while experiencing the fabric of a society that reflects the sport they love.
"Spain is currently experiencing their golden era of soccer and they are extremely proud of that fact," Mr. Mondelo commented following a USSF coaching course in Spain. "Everywhere you go there are soccer reminders in daily life, newspapers, TV, coffee shops, pubs, taxis. Wherever you are the game is present."
International programs such as the Galaxy's provide a setting for the sporting and cultural exchange to be mutually beneficial. The Galaxy U-18's represent the quality of youth development in the U.S. and at MLS academies in particular. Their presence in Spain and their play on the pitch can further introduce the narrative of the growth of the sport in America to their hosts.
With each passing year the top American squads begin to embrace their American identity and impart their style on the pitch, as "[e]very culture has traits and characteristics that define their style of play based on traditional values," Mr. Mondelo says. Champions at the U-16 level, this Galaxy U-18 squad has been building an identity that can be further supplemented by their unique experience abroad. As these players begin to infiltrate the Galaxy's first team, their lessons and characteristics will begin to shape what is arguably MLS's most famous club.
The Galaxy roster:
GOALKEEPERS (2) – Juan Cervantes, Grayson Cornwell
DEFENDERS (6) – Chris Antunez, Oscar Sorto, Matt Tilley, Javan Torre, Jeffrey Payeras, Nathan Smith
MIDFIELDERS (5) – Grady Howe, Bryan Guzman, Drew Murphy, William Raygoza, Jaime Villarreal
FORWARDS (5) – Justin Dhilon, Jack McBean, Mario Rodriguez, Jose Villarreal, Sebastian Velasquez
HEAD COACH – Eddie Soto
ASSISTANT COACHES – Braeden Cloutier and Craig Harrington
TRAINER – Pablo Chung