Chivas USA Academy expands reach, talent pool
Back in 2005—the same year Chivas USA played their first game in MLS—the club also began a youth development program in Southern California. At the start, the focus was purely instructional.
After two years of steady growth, the creation of the USSF Development Academy in 2007 helped Chivas’ fledgling youth program take another step forward.
“Obviously, a big point was when the Development Academy came in where we had a league where our U-18 and U-16 teams could play all over the country,” director of youth development Sacha van der Most Spijk said. “Before the Development Academy was out there, youth soccer in Southern California was a pretty cramped-up season in the fall, with two games a weekend and two practices a week. Now, the emphasis is now on more quality practicing and one game a week.”
Van der Most Spijk, who was named to his position at the end of March, has been with the program since it began. He also serves as the coach of Chivas USA's U-18 side.
There has been some transition in the club at the first team level this year with the addition of Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney to the coaching staff, but van der Most Spijk works closest with the club’s technical coach, Nick Theslof, who joined in 2010. Together, the two have been meeting with Fraser on a regular basis. The addition of Vanney as an assistant is a valuable asset from a youth development perspective, as he came to this position after serving as director of Real Salt Lake’s Arizona-based academy.
As it is, Chivas USA’s Academy has produced. Back in May 2008, Gerson Mayen, who had played for the club’s U-18s, signed with the first team. Since then, midfielders Bryan de la Fuente and César Zamora (who was waived this year) have signed from the academy. Jorge Flores won a spot on the academy through his participation in Sueño MLS in 2007, eventually earning a first-team contract.
As like with any other academy set-up, that’s the ultimate goal – to produce and develop talent to contribute at the first team level.
“[Our objective is to] have the kids ready at the level of our first team after they graduate from our U-18 program, or even when they are playing at the U-18 program,” van der Most Spijk said. “If you have players of higher quality, they should be able to step into a first team session and compete there.”
Along with the U-16 and U-18 teams, Chivas USA have several other projects going. There is a U-15 team and plans to expand further with a U-14 team next year. They operate an academy for boys ages 7-14 in Bell Gardens, Calif., and through sister club Chivas de Guadalajara, help run Chivas Fútbol Academy in San Bernardino, Calif.
Chivas USA’s Academy has benefited from the partnership with the Guadalajara club. The academy has made four trips to Mexico—three to play in the Copa Chivas with the U-18s—and have also played in the Copa Saprissa down in Costa Rica.
There are other Chivas affiliates throughout California, and even locations in Houston and Las Vegas to whom the club provides aid.
“We give them support on the coaching side, we organize coaching seminars and we visit their academy every once in awhile,” van der Most Spijk said. "And if players want to come to tryouts, they come and we take a look at them."
Things have come a long way in the past few years for the Rojiblancos academy, and with the level of talent in Southern California, the van der Most Spijk hopes to continue to develop MLS-caliber talent.