Chris Klein, LA Galaxy Academy Senior Director. Photo Credit: German Alegria/LA Galaxy
Soccer News: One-on-One with Chris Klein, LA Galaxy Academy Senior Director
Chris Klein was born in 1976 in St. Louis, Missouri, and played professional soccer from 1998 through 2010. He is one of the few young pro soccer players who spent his entire twelve-year professional career in the MLS, beginning with the MLS College Draft in 1998 when he was picked fourth overall by the Kansas City Wizards. At Kansas City he helped the team win the MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield in 2000. Klein then moved to Real Salt Lake in 2006 and finally joined the LA Galaxy in 2007. He helped LA Galaxy win the Supporters' Shield in 2010, his last year as a professional.
Klein was a four-time All-Star and ranks fifth in league history with 333 career games played in the MLS. He set a league record in 2008 when he made his 118th consecutive first-team start. Klein was also a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team in the early 2000s, collecting 23 caps and scoring five goals.
Shortly after he retired, the LA Galaxy announced in December of 2010 that Klein had been named the club’s Senior Director of the LA Galaxy Academy Program and Special Projects. Realizing that the LA Galaxy Academy needed to start developing youth players over a period of time, not just a short two to three years, one of Klein’s first decisions was to grow the academy by launching U12 and U13 teams. Another of his goals was to create a seamless connection with the first team and Head Coach Bruce Arena. Klein has accomplished both these goals and has a clear vision to the future.
Growing the Galaxy brand and developing players and fans tops Klein's list and partnering with highly select youth soccer clubs is a great way step towards accomplishing this task.
SoccerNation caught up with Chris Klein by phone from Stockholm for an interview on the LA Galaxy Academy’s new partnership with West Coast Futbol Club.
READ: LA Galaxy Announces Partnership with West Coast Futbol Club
SNN: Chris, thank you for taking some of your valuable time to speak with us. Can you tell us a little about the LA Galaxy Academy?
Chris Klein: Our Academy is three years old. When I took over a year ago, I saw the need for us to expand our reach, and one way was to partner with a youth soccer club. It is important to start player development at a very young age. Our academy now starts at U12, but there is important training prior to this age. We wanted to partner with a club where we could help develop their player programs in the way we think it should be done.
The right fundamentals are important to the successful development of a soccer player. Coaching should highlight developing technical skills and it should be fun for the players. The emphasis should not be on winning today’s game.
SNN: is West Coast Futbol Club your first partner?
Chris Klein: No, South Bay Force in the LA area was our first, and now we are working with West Coast in the Orange County area.
SNN: Are you looking to partner with a club in the San Diego area?
Chris Klein: Possibly. No other club partnership is planned for the immediate future, but we are not limiting ourselves to the Southern California area.
There is no set timetable on future partnerships.
SNN: Why did you select West Coast Futbol Club?
Chris Klein: Selecting a club is a careful process. We felt very comfortable partnering with West Coast. I have known their Director of Coaching, Oliver Wyss, for years and respect him very highly. West Coast Futbol Club is well-respected and has been well run for over 15 years.
Everything has to be consistent with how we want to run our academy U12 to U18 program. It is about the sharing of ideas, where we can learn from the clubs and they can learn from us. We can help youth soccer clubs achieve their goals for player development.
SNN: What is your five-year goal?
Chris Klein: My primary goal is to expand the brand and reach of the LA Galaxy as we help develop soccer in the Southern California area.
SNN: Does the LA Galaxy select players from its academy?
Chris Klein: Yes, the LA Galaxy has signed three players already from its academy – Tristan Bowen, Jack McBean and most recently Jose Villarreal. It is important to develop players from our academy for the MLS team. It is cost effective and a great way to build the team.
SNN: Besides LA Galaxy, which other MLS teams are doing a great job developing soccer players at their Academy?
Chris Klein: All the MLS teams have an academy and are committed to developing players. We recently played the Vancouver Whitecaps, an expansion team in the MLS last year. Vancouver has committed significant resources to develop a very strong academy program.
Their program is a residency program where all the players attend school together, very similar to what exists in Europe.
SNN: Is the Galaxy looking at developing a residency program?
Chris Klein: No, we are not at the moment.
SNN: What else have you changed at the Academy?
Chris Klein: We have increased the number of practices for players to four times a week, plus we added two athlete performance training sessions with specialists. This is six times a week they work out, which is a tremendous step forward.
Our goal is to build a very dynamic and strong program using our methods for player development.
SSN: With all this time allocated for practice, do your academy players compete in fewer tournaments?
Chris Klein: Playing in tournaments is not a real priority for our academy teams. We go to tournaments for great competition, not to show everyone we won a trophy.
It is important we teach our players how to win and how to lose.
At the U11 to U14 ages, winning is not a big concern for us. Soccer should be fun – and fun at all ages and all levels.
SNN: Do you think the MLS Academies provide a better opportunity for players than the Club Academies?
Chris Klein: As the MLS academies do their job correctly, separation between the competitive youth soccer clubs and the MLS team academies will increase.
There is real value in all the youth soccer clubs in the Southern California area. Many compeitive youth soccer clubs have done a fabulous job developing players.
SNN: The LA Galaxy’s partnership with WCFC will have a big impact for the youth club. Do you think this will increase the WCFC's player pool?
Chris Klein: I think our type of partnership will impact the top level of the elite players. I think you will see players who want to play at the top level and want a higher level of competition reaching for the MLS academies.
There are many soccer players whose goal is a college scholarship and not to play professional soccer and our partnership will not really impact that level player.
SNN: What do you think of the growth of youth soccer in America today?
Chris Klein: We want to grow the game of soccer to where our kids are going to school discussing what Robbie Keane did the night before at the game. But there is a cultural gap in America when it comes to youth soccer. American youth have more choices of how to spend their time than kids do in other countries. It is harder here.
SNN: How can we encourage the growth of soccer in America?
Chris Klein: It is important that youth players come to watch professional soccer games. We want all our players to come to the Galaxy games and get to know the pro players.
Soccer players realize their responsibility to grow the game and set a positive role model for our youth and our players do a great job with fans.
SNN: What do you think will help grow the game?
Chris Klein: I think it is important to realize that growing soccer in America, just like player development, is a long-term vision.
Looking back on the soccer scene in the USA, a lot of people ask if we have developed any world-class players. The answer is no. We have not developed a Messi or a Ronaldo. That is where our country has lacked.
The biggest challenge is to realize that this is a long-term project. I enjoyed playing soccer every day until I retired. Enjoying playing soccer means you want to play all the time, that there is a ball at your feet and that you want to play with your friends, not just wait until there is a team practice.
SNN: At what age should a youth player have a strong understanding of basic skills?
Chris Klein: Fundamental core skills in youth soccer need to be developed by U12. By the age of eleven, players need to know how to pass and receive the ball, shoot and dribble. It is a priority for our young players to have good coaching at this young golden age.
SNN: What do you think of the broad variety of soccer coaching styles in youth soccer?
Chris Klein: Jürgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men’s National Team Coach, has talked a lot about making soccer coaching consistent. It is very important that we provide our youth players with a consistent style of play.
SNN: Is there a “Galaxy” Style of play?
Chris Klein: Bruce Arena has just won the MLS Cup and has the luxury of developing a style of play. We want a style of Galaxy play. The LA market is vibrant with famous names. We have a responsibility to play an exciting brand of attacking soccer.
SNN: What is the Galaxy style of soccer?
Chris Klein: A possession-oriented defense and a high-pressure attacking offense.
SNN: On a more personal note, who is your favorite team in the world?
Chris Klein: I like to watch FC Barcelona. They always play an entertaining game of soccer and it is a pleasure to watch. Barcelona has committed to a style of play since the days of the famous Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff. It is really impressive. It is really fun to watch.
Barcelona is also a great example of a world-renowned club building their first team through developing players in its academy.
SNN: Who is your favorite player to watch?
Chris Klein: That would have to be Cristiano Ronaldo.
SNN: And finally, who is your favorite coach?
Chris Klein: Josep "Pep" Guardiola. He has built an amazing vision.
LA Galaxy Academy is dedicated to being the USA’s best soccer Academy and helping young players achieve their goals in soccer. The Academy works to develope elite athletes and teams by providing an organization of the best people, facilities, resources, methods and opportunities.
Take your family to a pro soccer game. Check out the LA Galaxy for tickets. More on Chris Klein @ Galaxy Academy
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