Friday, January 1, 2010

Thoughts from Garth Lagerwey: Part IV – Youth Program

This is the fourth segment of a 5-part series with thoughts from Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey.

I wanted to get his thoughts on the following topics:

Here is part 4:

Real Salt Lake has seen great strides with their youth program over the last couple of years.  The highlight probably has been the U-17 team’s trip to Madrid this past summer to compete in the world youth club championship. 

However, the organization is far from achieving their ultimate goals with their efforts at the youth level.  The near-term goal is to evolve into a full-academy program.  This essentially involves competing in the US Academy League.

“You get to a point where you have an under-18 team and an under-16 team in the US Developmental Academy League. That’s where a lot of the MLS teams play, and that’s where a lot of the elite US youth teams play. That’s the goal, and the direction we want to head. We are trying to work with youth soccer, not only here, but in Arizona to make that happen. But it’s a work-in-progress and it’s going to take us a while to get there.”

Currently the following MLS teams are represented: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Houston, LA Galaxy, NY Red Bulls, Chivas, Columbus, Kansas City, DC United, and New England.  In order to put this together the club has to either build a club system or tap into a strong existing club system.  It also requires putting together a thorough year-round effort.  Put simply, it just takes time to build such an infrastructure.

“We have won a Championship, and that’s great, but we are such a young club – only 5 years old. That’s part of the infrastructure that’s got to get built up over time. I wish we could snap our fingers and make it happen, but that’s not the way it works. The other clubs have had a 10-yr head start, and have more of an infrastructure in place.”

However, the long-term goal is to utilize the league’s Home Grown Player rule to cultivate young talent.  Lagerwey sees this, in combination with the draft, as a potential pipeline to continue to generate young players to move through the system and ultimately into the senior roster.

“You understand what a player is after three years in the league. We think of the draft, and we think of our young player signings as a pipeline. And if we add a couple of guys every year, and the pipeline system works, then you are going to push one or two through to the first team every year. By doing that you are going to have a continual influx of talent, even if it’s hard to follow from outside of the team .”

Look for the final segment with Garth on the effects of the CBA negotiations coming up soon!