Growing up in Southern California, the son of Argentine parents, Brian Kleiban admired Fernando Redondo, Ariel Ortega, Pablo Aimar, Juan Roman Riquelme and Juan Veron -- creative Argentine players and predecessors to Lionel Messi.
After Kleiban started coaching youth soccer, he made annual internship trips to FC Barcelona.
Why couldn’t the USA produce players like those, or Messi or Andres Iniesta?
“If Iniesta or Messi were born in the United States, they wouldn’t be doing what they do now,” says Kleiban. “Who knows what they’d be doing. Working at a restaurant?”
Brian Kleiban (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Romero/LA Galaxy)
Not only was elite American youth soccer not tapping into the rich talent of the Latino community, such creative types of players are suited to a different style of soccer than what has been prevalent in the USA.
“If Iniesta was playing here, as opposed to his system in Barcelona, he wouldn’t be the same Iniesta,” says Kleiban. “He’d get 10 touches per half as opposed to 50 touches per half. He’d get the ball in bad areas, he’d get smashed by defenders as opposed to getting the ball where he needs to get the ball.
“It all comes back to methodology and style of play and player profiles.”
Kleiban, after coaching a U-19 team at Orange Soccer Club to help out a friend, joined the staff at Barcelona USA, a club launched by Paul Walker in 1999 whose players were 90 percent Hispanic and took the Southern California youth scene by storm.
“The most fulfilling part when I started doing this 14 years ago -- there’s so much talent here in this market here in Southern California -- I wanted to help kids and open doors that weren’t open for me back then,” says Kleiban. “That is something that we failed at in this country. So many have slipped through the cracks. We have so many top level Hispanic players who for some reason don’t get to the top of the food chain.
“I say, if you surround these players with players of their quality, then they can play their best soccer.”
When Kleiban’s brother Gary Kleiban posted a video of Brian’s dazzling U-11 Barcelona USA team in 2012, it received more than 1 million views.
Brian Kleiban moved to Chivas USA’s academy in 2013. Chivas USA may have ultimately failed as an MLS team, but it’s academy program was one best in the nation. In 2015, Kleiban moved to the LA Galaxy, which was launching a high school for its academy players.
This July, Kleiban’s U-18s reached the Development Academy final, falling, 2-1, to Texans SC Houston. Truly remarkable about Kleiban’s team -- he started six U-16 eligible players, plus Efrain Alvarez, still eligible for the U-14s. Eight of Kleiban’s academy players have already appeared for Los Angeles Galaxy II in USL play.
“In terms of our club and the structure with our club, it’s moving the right direction,” says Kleiban.
(Photo courtesy of Stephanie Romero/LA Galaxy)
Brian Kleiban on …
Coaching role models
Marcelo Bielsa, when he took over after 1998 World Cup, Argentina finally had a clear-cut identity — aggressive attacking soccer. It didn't matter the opponent or venue, Argentina would be the protagonist dictating play for 90-plus minutes. Italy in Rome? No problem! Spain in Madrid? No Problem! Brazil in the Maracana, no problem! He changed the culture and mindset of that group and made them all believe they could win playing this way anywhere on planet earth. It worked during qualifiers and lead-up to 2002 World Cup. Unfortunately, they crashed out in group play. Ironically, they dominated each match, very lopsided numbers in terms of goalscoring opportunities. The ball just wouldn't go in.
Such was the respect for his work, he was retained after this massive failure for another term. Bielsa would lead Argentina to Olympic gold in 2004 and a disappointing heart-breaking Copa America final loss after giving up a goal to Brazil in stoppage time, losing on PKs. He stepped down after the gold in Athens. He continued his trend with Chile. He produced an amazing turnaround for Chile, the results coming after he was gone (back-to-back Copa America titles). The mindset was the same he inculcated in the Argentine player. Dominate on any field against any opponent with aggressive attacking soccer.
Pep Guardiola -- the obvious one. I had the pleasure to see him up close during his debut season at the Camp Nou. It was my first time in Barcelona during one of my five three-week internships. Amazing!
Jose Mourinho. I got to see him close and personal each time at UCLA during preseason. Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man United. He’s done amazing work on a consistent basis, starting with smaller clubs in Portugal.
If you’re coaching just for the paycheck, you do a disservice to the youth player. … I went to the 2004 Copa America in Peru and snuck into Argentina’s every session to watch Bielsa. I used to go to UCLA and watch Mourinho from the bushes. Fortunately now, with the situation I’m in, I can sit right next to the field. I think there’s a new generation of young coaches who have grown up playing the game, are hungry for knowledge, who are really taking it to another level in terms coaching education.
(Photo courtesy of Stephanie Romero/LA Galaxy)
I’ve been involved five years. I think it’s progressing, getting better, getting younger. My only critique, competitive games week in and week out aren’t there yet. Some of the local clubs we play, it’s 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 — not a challenge. We try and forge professionals and they’re not fighting for their lives. They are on the training field every day, but come the weekend, it’s too easy. We play these international games at Generation Adidas Cup or when we travel abroad — those kids, they’re involved in wars every week, fighting for their lives. For example, the Mexican clubs, the 17s and 20s, they travel with the first team every week. They adjust in 90 minutes. Our players are too comfortable.
Biggest mistake youth soccer coaches make
In my opinion, less is more. Figure out your core exercises to teach the basic fundamentals and team style of play. Work them over and over and over again. Demand perfection and execution in training. Once it becomes clear on consistent basis that they have mastered it individually and collectively, you can add layers of complexity. Until then, stick to the same things. Most coaches just jump around, all over the place with new content to fool everyone that they can run different sessions each and every day. The players never improve in any facets of their games this way.
Advice for coaches at the youngest
Not my forte working with the little ones just getting started, but I feel that it needs to be enjoyable. The kids need to have fun within the sessions and the game. As coaches, we need to inspire them to want to be different than the rest. Have passion for the game! It’s very important to give them “homework” in terms of ball work and mastery. The wall should be their best friend. Find a park with a racquetball court. We know mom and dad will be furious if you're banging the ball against the wall or garage at home.
Favorite soccer books
“Jose Mourinho: Anatomy of a Winner” by Patrick Barclay.
“Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich” by Martí Perarnau.
“Lo suficientemente loco. Una bigrafia de Marcelo Bielsa” by Ariel Senosiain.
Progressing as a
I started 14 years ago, and I thought I was pretty good Year 1, and I reflected back a few years down the line, and I’m, “Wow, I was terrible.” Same goes now. Five years ago, I thought I was a finished product, and I reflect back and wow, I’m wasn’t even close. A few years down the line, I’ll look back on this -- and hopefully I will have continued to evolve and grow.
Advice for parents
Parents need to support their kids. Make sure the decisions are made by the players in terms of their happiness with their situation and role within the team. During my experience, the kids are rarely, if ever, the problem. Parents tend to ruin it for their kids. Again, just support your child and understand it is a long-term process where there will be highs and lows.