Much has been said about Chivas USA. They’ve been the target of political inquires, media abuse and seemingly black-balled by many American soccer fans. Results have not helped either. Chivas USA averages 8,600 fans to their matches, that’s 10,000 less than both the capacity of HDC as well as the MLS average. According to MLSattendance.com their 8,600 is a 35.5% drop from what they averaged in 2011.
On the Academy front things have been slightly more stable. Chivas USA have continually recruited some of So Cal’s finest players. The club have signed ’95 usynt Marky Delgado and inked ’96 usynt forward Caleb Calvert to a deal. They’ve helped develop budding stars ’95 usynt Ben Spencer (Molde FK & Indy Eleven), ’94 Esteban Rodriguez (Tijuana Xolos U20) and ’98 usynt Joshua Perez (AS Fiorentina Academy).
Many of these player were attracted to Chivas USA due to the excellent coaching staff the club had put together, especially Teddy Chronopoulos, Mike Munoz and Dan Calichman. Chronopoulos and Calichman were controversially fired by the club last march, with Munoz trading in his Chivas colors for those of the LA Galaxy. Many of Chivas USA’s most promising prospects including, Adonis Amaya, Ryo Fujii, Jeffrey Quezada, Malcolm Jones, swapped their red and white for Galaxy colors.
So what could possibly be at Chivas that has me and other so excited?
If you haven’t watch Brian Kleiban’s squad, nor read just what they have accomplished over the last three years then take the time to stop here, and check out their website 3four3.com.
Over the past two years Kleiban and his staff have cultivated some of the most technically gifted soccer players in the United States. His squad have won multiple California and US youth tournaments leading to placement in some of the top internationally competitions where they have faced some of the strongest youth academies in the world.
In 2013 Kleiban took his So Cal Barcelona USA 2000-1’s to the Mediterranean International Cup where Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Ajax, Villarreal sent their top youth sides. Kleiban’s 2001s squared off against Spanish side EF Baix Ter, top Irish Academy Cherry Orchard, legendary Dutch club Ajax as well as the Spanish giants FC Barcelona, twice! Kleiban’s squad beat EF Baix Ter, Cherry Orchard and drew FC Barcelona in group play. They met Ajax in the quarter-finals, where they drew 1-1, but advanced after beating the dutch side on PK’s 4-3. A rematch against FC Barcelona proved too much as the club from Los Angeles would lose 3-2. Kleiban’s side secured third place overall with a win over an team from the Ivory Coast.
The question was then raised by US youth soccer fans. How can a club the size of Barcelona USA compete with the world’s finest clubs? Frankly, they do not have the money these clubs do, nor the resources? Hell, they don’t have the resources other USSDA clubs like the Los Angeles Galaxy, Real So Cal and others.
The answer, coaching.
Being one of the hotter names in coaching circles in Southern California has its perks. Multiple clubs courted the young coach, offering the resources that Barcelona USA could not compete with. Kleiban, one who is not afraid to go against the flow of modern soccer culture in this country, chose to align himself with the fledgling Chivas USA brand. Many in the community thought the task to make Chivas USA youth relevant was too much for even this football maverick.
Kleiban is part of the new-bred in American coaching. He and his staff stress technique, possession, and vision. Their sides attempt to emulate the Barca style, the concepts of total futbol blended with the tiki-taka style that has become a trademark of the highly skilled and fluid possession system stressed at the Catalan club. Kleiban and his staff searched the So Cal scene for hard-working players they could instill these lessons in, and they found them. A number of players under Kleiban have already seen action with US youth squads, despite being a year, or two, younger.
Lets not get it twisted, Kleiban has talent, but isn’t that the point. For years US youth soccer fans have heard from international scouts and coaches that the US has a wealth of talent just waiting to be unearthed. Arsenal’s teen prodigy Gedion Zelalem was playing for Walter Johnson high school over a year ago. HIGH SCHOOL! Kleiban’s built his Chivas USA U14 side by scouring the fruitful So Cal youth leagues, Hispanic leagues and lower levels of club soccer for the very best, with no bias’ toward race, background or ethnicity, if you can play, you can play for Kleiban.
Half the battle in raising the level of play in the United States is correctly, and promptly, identifying talent and pushing it to be better. The other half is coaching.
Kleiban has found that mix. He’s ideontified talent in his own area, and coached them to be aggressive with and without the ball, value possession, and encourages creativity. As a fan of US Soccer for over twenty years, I can unfortunately say this is not a recipe stressed by the USSF.
Kleiban’s Chivas USA U13 side won the 2014 Dallas Cup for their age division. He’s now placed multiple players on the US U14 and U15 sides. Kleiban’s four Chivas USA players was the second most of any club in terms of players sent to the most recent US U14 National Team training camp. Defenders ’00 Kelee Cornfield-Saunders, ’01 John ‘Xuxuh’ Hilton , midfielder ’00 Charly Anguiano and striker ’00 Misa Becerra were selected in one of the first meetings of the top 2000’s in the country. Both Hilton and Anguiano were key member of Kleiban’s inaugural U13/14 USSDA Chivas USA team. Chivas USA ’99s Anthony Ruiz, Daniel Villegas and Matthew Huerta were all just recently named to Hugo Perez’s US U15 camp. In all fairness to Ruiz, Villegas and Huerta, none of the three were near the US youth national team radar until Kleiban took over. With players like ’02 Efrain Alvarez and ’01 Cesar Rivera, ’01 Uly Llanez and ’00 Alex Mendez amongst others Chivas looks primed to have long term stability at the youth level.
Kleiban’s team’s play with the flair, technique, possession and passion that we as US Soccer fans crave. It is the type of football that we have been promised by USSF for years. A distinctive blend of ‘American ingenuity’ with ‘immigrant flavored creativity’ and Kleiban has been able to blend to two seamlessly.
There is a bit of irony in this story. Kleiban and these young American prospects don the crest of a Mexican brand known for an infamous policy of an only-Mexican involvement. It would be that club. It would be that crest, that will have a definite impact at the US youth level, at least for now. Chivas USA will be absorbed by the league soon. One day I will tell my children that the American footballing revolution was started by a coach and a club with that crest, the very symbol of Mexican football. What happens at, what is known now as Chivas USA, is unclear, but at least for right now Kleiban, his staff and his youth club are truly America’s team.