Galaxy Integrates Development Academy Teams into Professional Club Environment
Walking out of a first-class locker room, through the tunnel, up the ramp and onto a perfectly manicured pitch in a 27,000-seat stadium is a dream come true for most youth soccer players – or any young athlete for that matter. For the Los Angeles Galaxy and Pateadores Development Academy teams, that dream became a reality on Jan. 31, as both the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age groups played matches in The Home Depot Center stadium in front of 500 fans.
“Every week we try to improve our program and do as much as we can to show the boys that they’re really a part of our club,” said Trevor James, the Galaxy’s Director of Player Development. “We don’t want them to come in, train and leave. Having the opportunity to play in the stadium is great for our club, great for the area and of course I think it was good for Pateadores.”
James’ role as both an assistant coach for the professional team under head coach Bruce Arena and the Director of Player Development is just one way that the MLS team and Academy teams coexist in Carson, Calif. In addition to playing in the stadium and attending training and games, the youth players also have access to the same weight room facilities, athletic trainers and transportation provided to the first team.
“From the very first day of the season the boys come out with their families and watch a first team training session,” James said. “They do exactly what we do with the first team on its first day, and we have a media day where they do headshots and what not. That’s how we kick off our season.”
During the year, the Academy teams use the facility’s training fields, locker rooms and players lounge. The players also have access to one of the top weight training facilities in the country with Athletes Performance located within The HDC. In addition, Academy players also have access to the same athletic trainers, doctors and rehabilitation specialists that the pro side uses.
“From the start we tell them that it’s a year-long commitment and this is what we’re going to do, so their responsibility is to uphold their part of the agreement,” he said. “We provide as much as we can for them, and in turn they train, perform in games and are respectful to others. Those things are all part of how we want to develop players.”
MLS rules allow clubs to sign “home grown” players that it has developed without the player entering the SuperDraft. The Galaxy was the first team to take advantage of the rule when it signed Tristan Bowen on Nov. 12, 2008. Bowen went on to make his professional debut on April 7, 2009, against the Colorado Rapids.
“I grew up near Los Angeles and was a Galaxy fan, so having the option to bypass the draft was an amazing opportunity,” said Bowen. “Being part of the Galaxy program really helped make my transition to the first team really smooth. We trained the same way, with some of the same coaches and in the same facilities as the pro team, so even before I signed a contract I was already familiar with so much that goes with it.”
James, who had a front row seat to Bowen’s transition, recognizes the advantages that the young player had before signing his professional contract and wants to make sure that every player in the youth system has that chance.
“We try to give them the whole experience because some of these guys will be very good players in the long run,” said James. “They’ll already have a head start on the atmosphere part of things. The Galaxy and AEG are very much behind the youth programs, and Bruce Arena of course is very supportive of it and I think that shows.”
The Galaxy, who drew with Pateadores in the U-15/16 match and won 2-1 in the U-17/18 match, hopes to use the stadium several more times this spring, as long as there aren’t two Major League Soccer squads competing for the shared game field.