LA Galaxy II have played in the USL, now known as the USL Championship, since becoming the first “MLS2” team to play in the division back in 2014, and at this stage, there are no plans to change tack.
In 2020, the team known as Los Dos reached the playoffs in arguably the toughest group in league play, with a youthful team that not only stayed in games more often than not, but played beautiful soccer. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, head coach Junior Gonzalez ended up with a tight squad for Galaxy II, and the group blossomed as a result.
In talking to reporters during end-of-season availability last week, Galaxy president Chris Klein was asked whether Los Dos will remain in the USL Championship for the time being.
“We were very proud of the progress that they made, not just because of the results but because of how they did it,” Klein said. “We are committed to USL in playing in the Championship next year. We have found that that competition is the right level for our kids that are coming up and we’re seeing the improvement. And again, it takes time for that to show up on the first team. But our commitment is there, I think more broadly. Our commitment is to the development of our academy and certainly Galaxy II is a big piece of that and the last step before the first team and so from ownership on down we feel that we’ve created a good system that that we’re sticking by.”
The question comes because of percolating rumors that MLS2 teams in the USL Championship are increasingly looking to either move down a division, to the third-tier USL League One, or perhaps to exit the USL system altogether for reserve teams.
But Klein’s answer indicates there is no current specific mandate for MLS-controlled teams, and given Galaxy II’s performance in 2020, teams that have enough talent and are coached well, even if they are full of fresh-faced youngsters, can hang in the competition.
On a broader level, the Galaxy touted their success with a couple young players in particular in 2020, with Julian Araujo being a regular starter at MLS level and Efrain Alvarez continuing his progression as a pro with more playing time for the first team.
Coming right off the Philadelphia Union winning the Supporters’ Shield this season with a squad receiving major contributions from homegrown players, Klein admitted their model is being touted at the moment, but the Galaxy can’t replicate exactly what the Union have done.
“I know that everyone right now is looking at Philadelphia,” he said. “They are the team and deservedly so, and they they charted a course and they stuck with it through valleys and now, ultimately the mountain top and we have to create our own vision because LA is certainly different than the Philadelphia Union. Back to your question, we’re just at the front end of seeing some of our academy players come through and earn first team minutes, whether it be Julian [Araujo] or [Efrain Alvarez].
“We saw some great success with our second team this year and the academy is well structured and I think poised to really contribute to our club. It’s not going to be the only tool that we have in our toolbox but it’s something that we definitely need to take bigger advantage of and it’s one of the pieces that is really positive and we look forward to continuing to invest in it, and to realize what should be great potential in it.”
Galaxy general manager Dennis te Kloese also discussed the players in the reserve team and the pipeline. It’s worth noting he emphasized deliberation with promoting promising Los Dos players to the first team, which is a fair point considering the Galaxy tried to bring through a crop of homegrown players in 2017 to the first team and that process completely failed for LA.
“Some of the players on the first team roster were actually scheduled to compete in second team games, and it’s a highly competitive environment in USL for young players. And I think with going forward [playing in the USL Championship] for the moment that’s the right decision. Now, there has been players that have shown great promise, I think, with opponents like Las Vegas, San Diego, Sacramento, Reno, Orange County, obviously, I think a lot of players, this year young young players have taken a little bit of a fast track in their development. But you need to be careful also that going forward, we don’t throw them up into the first team, just because they had a good season in the second team. They need to be good arguments, but I’m completely aware of the great strides forward that we made in the second team, in the academy. I think there’s a clear playing style, there’s a clear culture that I think going forward will bring a lot to this club. There’s young players that we were able to sign to either USL contracts or homegrown contracts.”
While the 2017 plan to bring up young players didn’t work out, the Galaxy have also failed to keep top prospects from signing abroad, from Paul Arriola to Ulysses Llanez, to take but two examples. Te Kloese is well aware of that undistinguished history at the club.
“It’s something to be proud of [signing them to club contracts] because some of the talents that we had before they weren’t able to keep them here and now, I think, talented players such as Jalen Neal, Marcus Ferkranus, Mauricio Cuevas, for sure Augustine Williams, [Jonathan] Perez, just to name a few — Adam Saldaña — our players for the near or immediate future that would have to be considered in a developmental path, and going forward hopefully impact in the first team roster. But it’s talking a little bit of a longer process obviously, because they’re very young and they’re in an initial stage of their professional development,” Te Kloese said.
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