Making changes

Chivas USA's Youth Academy is proving that its changes are for the good

Chivas USA U17 Team in Dallas

Photo Credit: 
Alex Heilmann

CARSON, Calif. – Chivas USA’s youth movement has already reached historic proportions.

Less a year after the club’s academy underwent a major restructuring, the Rojiblancos’ U-17/18 squad advanced to the US Soccer Development Academy Finals Week for the first time in club history with a 2-0-1 performance during last week’s USSDA Academy Playoffs in Frisco, Texas.

Chivas advanced to the eight-team competition which takes place from July 16-23 by winning Group 6 with an impressive offensive display, tallying seven goals over the three games. Although the club had little previous success at the Academy level in the past, the young Rojiblancos arrived in Texas with a new attitude.

“The mentality was that we were going to win [from the start]. Warm-ups were serious, everything was serious when we got there and it was the most serious that I’ve ever seen the team,” midfielder Marky Delgado told MLSsoccer.com. “I was impressed because we are usually joking around, but everyone was serious…We made history [in Dallas] and it meant a lot to the team.”

Spearheading the U-17/18 group were five players who have spent considerable time training alongside the Rojiblancos first team throughout this season. Led by Delgado, forwards Ben Spencer and Anthony Dheming, midfielder Eric Gonzalez, and goalkeeper Jake McGuire, the group provided the spine for a team that went undefeated in Frisco.

Since the preseason the quintet have been mainstays during first team training sessions, training alongside seasoned professionals on a consistent basis. Something that their coaches believe paid major dividends in Frisco.

“Most of the players that we play against, probably have little to none in terms of professional experience so just the fact that our guys are challenged every single day, are punished for their mistakes on a daily basis, but more importantly are learning from those mistakes,” Chivas youth coach Mike Munoz told MLSsoccer.com. “When they come back and play their own age, the game is slower, they see things develop faster in their own head and they problem solve at a much higher level than the guys that they’re playing against. 

“The other aspect is leadership and they bring what they see the first team players do with each other and they bring that to their guys so it’s a really nice thing to see.”

Currently, youth team coaches including Munoz and Dan Calichman help facilitate practice sessions with the first team, a chance that allows them to immerse themselves with the coaching staff in the similar fashion to their players.  A move that was implemented by head coach Robin Fraser with an eye to creating a uniform playing style from the first team down to the club’s U-9 academy side.

With youth development serving as one of the tenets of his philosophy since he arrived, Fraser is impressed with the fast growth. 

“To see the development of the youth academy over the past year has been extremely impressive,” Fraser told MLSsoccer.com. “When the team does well, it’s great for the group and for us as an organization. We want to create this symmetry between our youth team and our first teams so it’s good to have the guys, who are doing well there, do well with the first team because then you see the benefits on both ends.”

For a team hungry for success, Munoz believes that his youngsters can provide just that in Houston.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for the club because it’s the first time that they’ve been to the academy finals,” said Munoz. “For the competition, everyone is very good and every game will be difficult, but we have a very confident group right now and we’re going to do the best that we can to represent the club.”

Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at adam.m.serrano@gmail.com and on Twitter: @adamserrano