Team Returns to Academy Playoffs Following Impressive Regular Season to Win SoCal Division
LA Galaxy U-15/16 Academy head coach Craig Harrington is used to having players within his roster playing up in the club’s youth system or away for international duty. Those opportunities ultimately are any coach’s objective out of his players in the Development Academy and the Galaxy program continues to forge ahead with regular success despite the frequent turnover.
The U-15/16 team is looking to repeat as champions at this age level and it is doing so following a regular season that included SoCal Division titles from both the LA Galaxy’s U-15/16 and U-17/18 programs.
“Having success underneath the U-17/18s has been awesome because we want to be the best Academy in the country,” Harrington said. “That puts us on the map and shows that we’re doing the right things. It has been a juggling act. The older group has done well and they’ve had guys go to MLS Reserve games and first team games. When that happens they get players from us, but all of the players here can step on the field and play.”
Leading scorer Justin Dhillon has been a centerpiece of the U-15/16 team, posting strong back-to-back seasons at this level. He was a key component during the 2010-11 team’s championship-winning season and the title game itself. Dhillon had a goal and an assist as the Galaxy U-15/16 team defeated PA Classics 4-1 in Milwaukee, Wis.
“Last year was my first in this kind of environment and experience,” Dhillon said. “I just treated it really professionally. I know how everything is this year and I’m used to it. I’m able to help the other guys that are new around this program and the Playoffs to get into rhythm and reach our goal of winning a national championship.”
It is natural to focus on Dhillon’s 20 regular-season goals and a Galaxy offense that tallied 48 goals in 16 division games, but the defensive side of the ball through division play was just as impressive, allowing less than a goal per game.
“We stress a lot on just making sure that nothing comes in our goal, because we know that if we keep a clean sheet that we will get goals and eventually win the game,” Dhillon said.
“That is something that we take really, really seriously throughout the Academy,” Harrington said. “I’m a center back and my assistant coach is a center back, so that’s probably got something to do with the fact that we take great pride in our defensive shape. We go through a lot of functional work with the guys and what they need to do on the field.”
The Galaxy enters this year’s event without its captain, Rolando Munoz, who is currently playing for the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team at the Copa Saprissa Internacional tournament in San Jose, Costa Rica.
“You like to see these guys trained in these types of environments to see if they can do better,” Harrington said. “It’s tough [playing without them], but it’s pretty exciting. It’s going to make them better players.”
Along with Dhillon, teammates Kevin Labastida and Vincent Reyes also played in last year’s championship game, providing some welcome experience for this year’s Academy Playoffs.
“A few guys have been through it, so that’s definitely helped to have guys like Justin who have played for the Reserve team and first team training sessions and having that professional mindset,” Harrington said. “The guys know what it takes, they have the work ethic and they believe in what we’re trying to do. They’ve done a tremendous job so far, but we’re obviously not done yet. Hopefully, we can get to Houston.”