An awful lot has been written about Chivas USA. Some deserving, some undeserving.
To be honest it really doesn’t matter what your opinions of the club are, in reality, Chivas USA is one of the most important youth clubs in America.
For too long, we as US Soccer fans have been formulating arguments against our international compatriots of what a US National Team would be like with ‘our best athletes.’
During the USA-Belgium game I overheard a US fan say ‘Man, what if LeBron was in net for the US,’ another fan turned to him and said ‘We’d have one tall back-up goalkeeper.’
That’s the point. Our ‘best athletes’ at their core are much more than just athletes. There are plenty of 6-3 athletes who never make it in the league. Our ‘best athletes’ are the kids ‘pundits’ told them would never make it. They are the kids with a chip on their shoulders. They are the kids from the ‘other team’ in town. They are immigrants. They are outsiders. They are the one’s you would never expect.
Enter Chivas USA.
None of the kids that play for Chivas USA pass the eye test (well maybe one, but he’s not on the current roster, and we’ll talk about him later). Despite this fact, the influence this academy is having on our Youth National Team is immense.
That seems to be just the way newly promoted Chivas USA U18 & U14 Head Coach Brian Kleiban like things. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of what Kleiban is building at Chivas USA and in Southern California. Kleiban’s ability to blend a player’s personal culture, style and technique into a total football dynamic is remarkable. Kleiban has transformed Chivas USA into America’s Team.
Kleiban was inserted as the Chivas USA U18 Head Coach in April of 2014. Prior to Kleiban taking over the U18s were sitting middle of the Southwest division on the outside of the play-off picture. Kleiban went 3-1-1 over the last two months of the season, sneaking into the squad into the USSDA play-offs. From there he was able to lead the U18s out of the group stage defeating CASL, Houston Dynamo before losing to finalist Bethesda-Olney.
This year is no different for Kleiban, or Chivas USA. The Chivas USA U18s lose all but two players off their U18 roster from last year. Returning goalkeeper Alexis Garcia-Nunez is the easy choice in net. Garcia-Nunez will be re-joined by Michael ‘Mikey’ Flores. ’96 Flores is an exciting attacker who scored 8 goals in 11 matches last season for Chivas USA. Flores will be the key man for the U18s this season. He was a revelation toward the end of the season and started nearly every match under Kleiban. Flores already has 2 goals on the season.
Chivas USA & Kleiban promoted ’97s Eddie Cabrera and Jonathan Hernandez from their U16 squad for their play-off push last July. Both Cabrera, a midfield/attacker, and Hernandez, a midfielder, will be cornerstones of the U18s this season.
Hernandez in particular will drive the team’s offense this season. Jonathan is good on the ball an excellent at dictating the pace of the match. Hernandez could be joined by ’98 Orlando Lopez. Lopez is listed on the Chivas USA U16 roster but could see plenty of time with the U18s as Kleiban loves playing kids up in age.
Mikey Flores is joined by Irvine Strikers transplant Matthew Gooden in attack. Gooden, a Loyola Marymount commit, was instrumental in the excellent run the U16 Strikers had last season, starting 32 of 33 games as a striker and bagging 7 goals. He’s got loads of pace and is most effective on the right side. Flores, Gooden and Cabrera are boosted by the addition of former Pateadores hit-man Brian Pacheco who has recently joined the Chivas USA organization. Pacheco was the target of a few Mexican and European teams over the last few years.
In the back Kleiban relies on centerback Miguel Martinez and Roman Rios. Kleiban demands superior technique and ball skills from his defense, and the combination of Martinez and Rios have loads of talent in this area. Both are calm with the ball, are constantly looking to link up with midfield. Out wide ex-Irvine Strikers U16 star Luis Ramirez to be a vital cog for the team. His knack of joining the offense does not hinder his defensive prowess. Ramirez will be a major outlet in turning defense to offense.
Kleiban has already asserted his ball possession-team pressure ethos on this squad, while results have not come as they would have hoped at the beginning of the season, the more this squad gels the more damage they will do.
Chivas USA’s U16 will be led by ’98 Mexican-American Ivan Gutierrez. Gutierrez, recently represented Mexico U17s in the Copa Naciones tournament down in Mexico. Gutierrez was called up by both Mexico and the United States choosing to represent El Tri at this time. He’s told OWTY that he has not closed the door to playing with the United States.
For Chivas USA Gutierrez was fantastic last season. He was one of the top, if not the top, ’98 in all of USSDA. His 18 goals for Chivas USA kept the squad afloat. Do not be surprised if Kleiban brings Gutierrez into the mix with the U18s like he will with ’98 Lopez.
Gutierrez is joined by fellow U16 returning defender Kevin Reyes. Reyes started 27 of 29 games for the U16s last season as a centerback. Reyes is the clear leader of the defense. Josue Hernandez and Erick Gallinar played small roles last year and will be asked to take on more responsibility this season.
Chivas USA welcomed US U15 ’99s Anthony Ruiz, Daniel Villegas and Matthew Huerta. Ruiz and Villegas were both listed as defenders during the most recent US U15 camp, but could see time higher up the field. With the Chivas USA U14 Villegas played as a striker and Ruiz a midfielder. Huerta was a scoring revelation for Chivas USA U14s and one of the many diamonds Kleiban has unearthed. Huerta scored 14 times last season and could former a deadly partnership with Gutierrez if Ivan stays with the U16s.
Chivas USA U16 ’99s Leo Cuteno, Nigel Leo and Oscar Penate have been excellent thus far into the season. The trio made the jump from U14 to U16 and have not missed a step.
I’ve waited over 1000 words to begin talking about the Chivas USA U14s. I obsessively checked the USSDA website every day, checking for the official release of this roster. Go ahead and judge me, I don’t care.
In my opinion the only roster in the entire nation that has as much sheer talent as the Los Angeles Galaxy U14 squad is the Chivas USA U14s. There 5-5 tie on October 5 was a match of epic proportions and one the USSDA should have streamed.
Like the U18s, the U14s will be led by Klebian with his high pressure-possession based football. Kleiban’s been with the core of this squad for a number of years, including his time at TFA.
Despite their loss of the ’99s and the absence of ’01 star John ‘Xuxuh’ Hilton, this roster is loaded with experience and potential.
We have to start with US U14 midfielder Charly Anguiano. Anguiano is the fulcrum of this team, and likely the US U14 team as well. His ability to connect both ends of the park is phenomenal and has the field vision of a much older player. He wears the #6 for the squad and rightfully so. Charly has trained with the U18s and does not miss a beat. The U14s march to the beat that Charly drums.
Anguiano is joined in the center of midfield by ’00 Paolo Carrillo Weisenberger who appeared in 18 match last season for the U14s. Weisenberger is tidy on the ball and a perfect compliment to Anguiano in the middle of the field.
Anguiano-Weisenberger partnership also features talented ’00 Alex Mendez. Mendez starts out wide to the left, with ’00 Jorge Hernandez another strong threat out wide and could force Mendez to play further back in midfield. Mendez and Hernandez have already combined for 5 goals on the season.
The tricky Hernandez is a wizard with the ball at his feet. As Hernandez terrorizes defenses from the left, it will be ’01 Uly Llanez who attacks from the right. Llanez already has 2 goals on the season as well. Both Hernandez and sure-fire US U14 Llanez have the ability to switch sides and attack with both feet. Do not be surprised if former US U14 Wilmer Cabrera joins this trio. Cabrera is a key man and has the ability to play on either wing or in the middle.
The coveted #10 jersey for the squad is also worn by its youngest member. ’02 Efrain Alvarez, who’s the younger brother of former Chivas play-maker and current Colorado Rapids midfielder Carlos Alavrez, plays the attacking midfield role for the team in between Mendez-Llanez and in front of the Anguiano-Weisenberger duo. Alvarez has been playing up in age for Kleiban for multiple seasons now, so don’t let his age fool you. He’s a top talent and the next Kleiban product to break onto the US scene. Like Anguiano, Alvarez has vision beyond his age, and his left foot has international scout drooling. Alvarez has starred with Kleiban during a number of international tournaments with some of the world’s greatest scouts and academies looking to scoop him up. Alvarez is the best ’02 prospect in the US system, and was recently selected to the US U14 team, a year up. Alvarez already leads the team with 5 goals on the season.
Up top the U14s rely on the aforementioned Cabrera or more likely center-forward and US U14 prospect Misa Becerra. ’00 Becerra, like Mendez, Alvarez, Anguiano and a host of others has been a key member of Kleiban’s program for over five years. His work-rate, movement and ability to link up with midfielders is top notch. Becerra has quick feet and is incredibly deceptive with the ball at his feet. Misa has been the team’s leading goal scorer for the last five years and this year should no different.
In the defense Chivas USA new-boy Kelee Cornfield-Saunders has already established himself as a leader on the team. Cornfield-Saunders spent time with the id2 roster and was recently selected to the US U14 squad. He is a classy left footed defender who is an excellent addition to the squad for his ability to play a possession based game. Cornfield-Saunders will be joined by incumbent central defender Miguel Ibarra who has been a rock for Kleiban.
Normally the Chivas USA right side would be dominated by ’01 Xuxuh Hilton, but Hilton’s stock blew up in 2014 which has seen his career take off to new heights. Hilton’s ability to bomb forward became a trademark for this team, and finding someone who could step into this role was paramount over the summer.
Kleiban quickly earmarked fellow ’01 Cesar Rivera as a player who could help replace some of what the squad lost following Xuxuh’s departure. Rivera’s role, much like Hilton’s was, is to cause havoc down the flank and play balls into the box for attackers to get on the end of, without compromising his defensive responsibilities. He’s technically sound and will be a major factor for this team, and was recently named to the US U14 roster.
’00 Nathan Marroquin also plays a major role in the defense. Marroquin started 14 of 21 matches last season. The first choice goalkeeper has been, and will continue to be ’00 Gerardo Lopez, who is one of the most sound in California.
Other names to watch for on the U14s throughout the year will be ’01 Owen Zaldivar who has a super left foot and could see lots to time on the wings. ’00 Jose Delgado was a key player last year and will figure into plans nicely this year as well. ’01s Brian Hernandez and Nathan Franco will make an impact as well.
Club Captain :: Jonathan Hernandez
Impact Player :: Orlando Lopez
Club Talisman :: Miguel Martinez
Club Star :: Ivan Gutierrez
Defensive Stalwart :: Kelee Cornfield-Saunders
Top Prospect :: Efrain Alvarez
Pro Prospect :: Charly Anguiano