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Made in LA?

What is the plan to cultivate players in a soccer region loaded with talent?

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The LA Galaxy were tied with FC Dallas with the most Homegrown players on their roster during the 2017 season with nine.

They also ended the season dead last. A off season rebuilding job has made the Galaxy a more competitive team, but is there a long-term plan to develop players in a region overflowing with talent?

Originally, it seemed like the Galaxy wanted to develop local talent similar to what teams like FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls have been doing for years.

That plan was quietly scrapped in the winter. Jack McBean, Jose Villarreal, Jaime Villarreal, Raul Mendiola and Nathan Smith were released, some of whom had their rights traded afterwards for peanuts. Gyasi Zardes was jettissioned to the Columbus Crew. Just four Homegrowns remain: Bradford Jamieson IV, Ariel Lassiter, Hugo Arellano and Efrain Alvarez. Even though McBean, Zardes, and Jose Villarreal got decent minutes last season, it seems like the team has moved on from developing youth or at least not making it a priority.

During the offseason makeover, Sigi Schmid and co opted to sign players with previous MLS experience such as Chris Pontius, Perry Kitchen, Servando Carrasco, and David Bingham along with foreign players like Jorgen Skjelvik and Rolf Feltscher. This comes after the team has invested millions of dollars into the academy system, including launching an ambitious high school education program for U-16s and U-18s in 2015.

“We’re extremely proud to create a unique program to our country that will allow our Academy players to learn and develop with the same resources provided to our professionals,” said LA Galaxy Academy Director Pete Vagenas at the time. “The Galaxy Academy has the opportunity to be one of the best in the world. This is a monumental step for our club and for the development of soccer in our country.”

Not all is doom and gloom. The organization was able to lure 15 year old Mexican-American Efrain Alvarez to the first team after being with Los Dos last year. Alvarez has been called into El Tri’s U-17 training camp that will feature games against Argentina and Uruguay and also scored against AS Monaco in the Galaxy’s U-17 Generation Adidas Cup.

But one important signing is just the tip of the iceberg. A glance at the Red Bulls’ roster and you will find three quality attacking midfielders in Tyler Adams, Sean Davis and Alex Muyl, one of whom is bound for Europe, all developed locally in the academy.

Open tryouts are not going to get the job done. A coherent long-term strategy to develop talent is not just an ambiguous goal, but is quickly becoming a working necessity to be successful in this league.

The future certainly remains to be seen, but at this moment it doesn’t seem like the team is there yet. Let’s hope the long-term plan is different.


History of LA Galaxy’s Homegrown signings

Jack McBean - Signed at 16 years old in 2011. Now with Colorado Rapids

Jose Villarreal - Signed at 18 years old in 2011. Now with Orlando City SC.

Oscar Sorto - Signed at 18 years old in 2012. Now with Orange County SC.

Gyasi Zardes - Signed at 21 years old in 2012. Was with the Galaxy Academy in 2008 and 2009. Now with the Columbus Crew.

Raul Mendiola - Signed at 19 years old in 2014. Has been in Galaxy Academy since 2011. He is currently without a team.

Bradford Jamieson IV - Signed at 17 years old in 2014. Still with the team.

Ariel Lassiter - Signed at 21 years old in 2016. Still with the team.

Nathan Smith - Signed at 22 years old in 2017. Has been in the Galaxy Academy since 2011. Now with Timbers 2 (USL).

Jaime Villarreal - Signed at 21 years old in 2017 to a Homegrown contract. Has been in the Galaxy Academy since 2012. Now with Sacramento Republic (USL).

Hugo Arellano - Signed at 18 years old in 2017. Still with the team.

Efrain Alvarez - Signed at 15 years old in 2018. Still with the team.