Lost in all the hoopla of leading the league, being chased down by Seattle and Dallas, Real Madrid coming to town and whatever other shenanigans going on in Galaxyland was the team's under-16 squad winning the national Development Academy championship. It's the first real feather in the cap for the Galaxy youth system, which got off to a slower start than its MLS counterparts, but appears to be making up ground and taking advantage on the Southern California talent goldmine.
The Development Academy is the elite level of youth soccer in the country, filled with a set of requirements created by the U.S. Soccer. The top youth clubs in the country play in the Development Academy and the highlight of it all is FInals Week, when all of the top teams in the country gather for a championship tournament. It was there that the Galaxy defeated the Sounders to get to the final, then grabbed the title in convincing fashion.
The LA Galaxy Academy U-16's claimed the first National Championship in club history on Saturday, defeating Pennsylvania's PA Classics 4-1 in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Final on the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee. Sean Dhillon gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead inside the game's opening two minutes while Willie Raygoza scored the eventual game-winner in the 60th minute. Justin Dhillon and Drew Murphy added goals in the final 10 minutes to round out the win.
Nobody really watches the youth teams unless he is a Galaxy employee and keeping tabs on the youngsters is in their job description so we're not going to play expert here. We don't know how good either of the Dhillon brothers really are and we're not going to call for all these kids to be signed to homegrown contracts right away.
That said, the success of the youth teams is huge. Not from a wins and losses standpoint, but who they are producing. The state of soccer in this country is changing. More and more kids are passing on college. They have offers abroad and are looking to be like players all around the world. They want to be professionals as soon as possible.
With that, teams cannot build exclusively through the draft anymore. Teams used to be able to grab a good chunk of their players from the draft. Even the current Galaxy team has draft picks Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin anchoring the back line. It's hard to imagine the Galaxy or any other team in MLS being able to fill 3/4 of its back line with draft picks in 10 years.
The draft won't be obsolete, but it has to be complimented with home grown players. New York is already doing well to train and lock up some of the best players from New Jersey, which is a hotbed for soccer in this country. Dallas has arguably the top youth system in MLS and they're locking up Texas. Arizona, which used to be Galaxy territory, is going to Salt Lake, who have established an academy there. The players that the Galaxy used to get through the draft are not going to be available for selection. They'll have already joined clubs as homegrown players.
The Galaxy will need homegrown players of their own. Southern California has long produced top player after top player. UCLA has produced more MLS and U.S. national team players than any other school and most of their talent is local. Instead of going to Westwood, the Galaxy need to get those players in their academy. They need to rake in the local talent. Tristan Bowen and Jack McBean are starts, but it's time for this to grow.
Getting quality youth is going to be essential to building teams before long. The Galaxy need to ensure that they're not just getting their fair share, but more than their fair share because getting to scout and recruit Southern California is a goldmine. Whether any kids from this national champion U-16 team ever play for the Galaxy is up in the air, but the fact that they're beginning to develop the academy is huge for the future of the club.