Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
The Galaxy won Major League Soccer's championship. Chivas USA altered its culture, probably for the better. Neither achievement is as important as the steps both clubs are taking to develop talent.
2011 was the year the local teams' emphasis on their academy programs began to make a real impact, with national championships, prosperous partnerships, advancing talent and one massive merger.
The Galaxy, with former midfielder Chris Klein in charge of the academy program, won the title, claiming the U.S. Soccer Development Academy U15/16 championship last July. Then they picked up the cream of Mission Viejo-based Pateadores' U17/18 titlists through a partnership with Todd Saldaña's South Bay Force club. One of those pickups -- Inglewood's Jose Villarreal -- already has signed a Home Grown Player contract with L.A.'s first team, just like Newport Beach's Jack McBean, who joined the Galaxy last season at 16. More appear destined to follow.
Chivas made the bolder move, bringing in under its umbrella the Cosmos West Academy -- the New York Cosmos' Pasadena-based West Coast development center, which the prospective MVP team abandoned to align with league rules. Former pro Teddy Chronopoulos, Cosmos West's director, took charge of Chivas' program, which also benefited from the influence of first-team assistant coach Greg Vanney, who had been running Real Salt Lake's Arizona program. General manager Jose Domene declared that the Goats wanted to build the bulk of its roster, going forward, from their academy.
Both clubs have youth national team-caliber players, some plucked from top clubs in Southern California's talent-rich scene. The ability to offer professional contracts is an advantage the Galaxy and Chivas have over its local rivals.
The academy system is still in its infancy in the U.S., but it's the foundation of soccer's future in this country. The local sides were a little slow to the party -- check out what the Chicago Fire, especially, have been producing for years -- but as MLS player-acquisition rules begin to catch up with developmental philosophies, the impact will surely broaden.