LA Galaxy II will embark on their fourth season on Saturday, as they host Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at StubHub Center in the teams’ USL curtain-raiser.
The coming season represents considerable change for Galaxy II, most notably at head coach. With former boss Curt Onalfo moving up to coach the club’s MLS team, the USL side gets its second head coach all-time in longtime academy coach Mike Munoz.
Munoz, who played professionally before becoming an academy coach and now a professional coach, spoke exclusively to SoccerNation about the season ahead on Wednesday.
“I’m excited for this upcoming season and the project, especially the connection that we’ve built with the academy from the ground up,” he said.
One of the transformations between Onalfo’s young stint as MLS coach and that of his predecessor, Bruce Arena, has been the amount of playing time that Galaxy academy products and LA Galaxy II players have gotten so far this season with the first team. Munoz was asked if the pipeline appearing to open up more at the top will make his job with the USL side easier.
“Depends a little bit on perspective,” he responded. “I think people are always going to look at a professional team, whether it’s reserves or not, as a result-oriented business. And we gotta be careful when we start talking about youth coming to play professionally, for a number of reasons. So we just got to be careful when we talk about pushing these guys through this system too early, too fast. They’re still young kids, they’re still going to make mistakes, we still have to be ok with them making mistakes and to learn from it.
“And if that doesn’t necessarily translate to a win on the weekend, then we have to be ok and patient with that as well. In a lot of ways that makes it harder, but of course because I know the group, because I know the players, because the style, and the vision and the identity will be the same, yeah, it makes the day-to-day work a lot easier.”
Given the success of Galaxy II in their first three seasons, having made the playoffs each year and reached the USL Cup final in 2015, what is the primary objective for the team this year?
“Top priority is to get guys developed for the first team. Wins are secondary, but being a big club like the Galaxy are, the identity and the vision from the top down in terms of being successful, there’s definitely that pressure as well. By no means is it ok for us to just lose, but we will still have to have that at the forefront to be successful.”
Among so-called MLS2 sides, the Galaxy II have been pioneers throughout, and one of the innovations they introduced this year was tryouts abroad. A group of Japanese players were brought to California following trials in Japan, and while no players were ultimately signed from that effort for the moment, Munoz said more tryouts, including an upcoming session in England, will continue to be a strategy used by the organization to identify promising young players, including diamonds in the rough from far afield.
Munoz was also asked about the players on the Galaxy II roster to watch out for in 2017. He cited a number of academy players he’s known for years, as well as a couple players with more professional experience he expects to leverage the USL playing time into something more with the MLS side in the near future.
“The guys that are up and coming, the guys who we expect to be that next crop in that breakthrough, guys like Adonis Amaya, Ryo Fujii, Jaime Villarreal,” he said. “Guys like Hugo Arellano will really have to step up now, lead our back line. Josh Turnley is another one, a left back who has a number of years of experience. And a guy that we just signed like a Miguel Aguilar. These are the guys we expect to really break through, not only with Galaxy II but really make a case for themselves with the first team.”
LA Galaxy II will kick off the 2017 USL regular season on Saturday, March 25 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at StubHub Center at 2 pm PT. You can buy tickets for the game here.