Commentary

GM Dennis te Kloese on the Galaxy's revival, his Dutch-Mexican influence, and American soccer's progress

After missing the MLS playoffs the past two years, the LA Galaxy last December turned to Dennis te Kloese, a Dutchman with an extensive background in the Mexican game, to guide the five-time MLS Cup champions back to prominence.

Nine months later into te Kloese's tenure as general manager, the Galaxy appears on its way, back in the postseason and with a chance to finish second in the Western Conference, needing a victory in Sunday's regular-season finale Houston and a draw between Seattle and Minnesota.

Te Kloese, who played primarily lower-level voetbal before knee injuries and higher education lured him off the field in his early 20s, arrived from a stint with the Mexican federation as director of national teams, brought in Guillermo Barros Schelotto as head coach, restructured the development program, and worked to bring in several key players from Latin America -- winger Cristian Pavon, most of all -- as the Galaxy takes aim at the future.

Te Kloese has been in North America since 2003, when Hans Westerhof, with whom he'd worked at Ajax Amsterdam, lured him to Chivas de Guadalajara. His work with Chivas (and Chivas USA, in two stints), UANL Tigres and as director of Mexico's youth national teams has established him as a major figure in the youth game, and he's brought to the Galaxy, through his heritage and experience, a rather unique view of the game.

Soccer America sat down with te Kloese in his Dignity Health Sports Park office as the season hit its final stretch to talk about his experiences, his plans for the Galaxy, and his views on American soccer and what the U.S. has to offer the world.

SOCCER AMERICA: Tell us about growing up as a soccer player and fan in Holland.

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I come from a family where there weren't a lot of active players, except for a cousin of my grandfather. My grandfather, was the one together with my parents who tried to get me in an organized environment. The environment in Holland is very organized. There are so many clubs, and it's easy to get into. And I think it's well-done for young kids to start and enjoy, and then when it gets more competitive, there's many opportunities, and because it's such a small country, it's difficult that they overlook somebody.

I must say I wasn't the most talented player, but I always worked very hard, and I had some opportunities, and I played for youth national teams, and I had a very short stint at Ajax, at their youth [academy], but not good enough for that. So, I bounced around at different clubs in between different levels, but overall I think I did enough with the what the talent allowed me to do.

SA: Where on the field did you play?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I played as a central defender. I needed to work so hard just to be able to be in a good environment, and I did it. I knew what my limitations were, which were quite a few, and what my qualities were, which were very helpful for the team. So I'm always more of a team player and a hardworking player, but I started studying, like I think every young Dutch boy does, and I think I paid a little bit more attention to studies, knowing that making a fortune in professional soccer would be very, very hard as a player.

"I got an invitation to do scouting for Ajax, and that was probably the first step for me to see the other side of being a player."

SA: Which club did you support?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I was always been a fan of Ajax. I grew up in Bussum [a few miles southeast of Amsterdam], and my father used to have a flower shop, and he had a lot of clients who were related to the club. And once in a while we got some tickets, and then when they invited me to play there, the relationship obviously went stronger and stronger, and I've always been following them ever since.

I used to go to the former stadium a lot with my father. I played in the back fields. There was the first artificial field, with sand on it. So every training session, every knee was all [cut] open, and you could depend on only physical qualities. And I followed them when they moved to the Amsterdam Arena. I still have a pretty good relationship there with a lot of people, and every weekend I try to follow them a little bit.

SA: Who were your heroes?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: When I was young, there was the return of Johan Cruyff, and everybody thought he was too old. I was at the game, I think it was against Haarlem, when he chipped the ball over the goalie. And he went to Feyenoord, which was I think the worst that could happen to us [rooting for Ajax] at that point, because he made them champions and he won the cup. My father had a good friendship with Cruyff. I admired him a lot.

And then players in my position, I always liked Ronald Koeman. I liked Frank Rijkaard, and guys that are more of my age that actually had a big career, guys like Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Michael Reiziger.

SA: How did you get into scouting and management?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I chose to study law at the University of Amsterdam, which I liked and, to be honest, went very well with my training schedule at the club that I played at at that time. I was playing with a small club called Huizen, which here would be like a USL kind of team. I always had some sort of an idea that if I could combine my studies with sports, but there weren't any real sports management courses at that time. And I had the opportunity, because of sponsorship with the Dutch Federation.

PricewaterhouseCoopers offered me an internship. They did a lot of consulting and advisory work on tax-related issues and law-related issues for professional athletes, for clubs, and I knew a lot. I stopped playing with a lot of knee injuries when I was 24 or 25, so that was a turning point for me to see if I could do something formally with the studies that I have.

I also got an invitation to do scouting for Ajax, and that was probably the first step for me to see the other side of being a player, and I am still very grateful the gentleman that worked at that point there was Hans Westerhof, who at Ajax was technical director. He gave me an opportunity to work in an international exchange program, and they had an exchange program in Mexico with Chivas. At that point, Hans went away and trained another team, I finished my studies and kept working there at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In 2002 or 2003, he was hired by Chivas, which Jorge Vergara had just bought. One of the first things that he did was analyze the structure of the club in Guadalajara, and there was no head of youth development, there was no head of scouting, and a lot of people had left. He asked me to help him out, so I did their youth development. I set up their scouting department. I was very young, still, but a very, very big opportunity at a very, very big club.

The interesting part is that my wife, Montserrat, is from Guadalajara, so she went back home. We'd met on holiday in Puerto Vallarta, and we lived in Holland -- she studied in Holland -- so she went back to Guadalajara, and for my wife, it was amazing. If you plan it, it doesn't work, but these are moments that click. And for me to have an opportunity like that ... the club is so big, it's just amazing. And it was a great experience.

Then in Costa Rica, Jorge Vergara bought Saprissa, and he bought Chivas USA. [Club] president Ivar Sisniega, who's the father of [Pablo Sisniega, the backup] goalie for LAFC, asked me if I would be willing to go to the United States, so I went with my wife, and I was here the first, say, three and a half seasons for Chivas USA. I thought it was a good experience. We set up an academy, and we set up soccer schools, and we set up a scouting department.

SA: What was that experience like? It seemed Chivas USA was not prepared for MLS when it debuted.

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I think the biggest difficulty was the expectations of the name you put on the team. I think the people at Chivas did their research and probably were well-prepared. But if you put “Chivas” on a team, it is Mexico. There is no way that it's something different than Mexico. The people who live here or relate to it or know about it, even Americans or whatever, they see Chivas as a Mexican team.

It was a market where it's highly competitive, and the Galaxy already had some high-profile players and were very active in drawing bigger players and better names, and they were a championship team. To compete with that when the expectations of the people that went out and saw it, they were probably disappointed, because they thought it's not up to the level, it's not something that I used to see or that I heard from my parents or my grandparents in Mexico, and while they have a few players, but it's not the best that is available.

SA: The fortunes changed when Bob Bradley was hired as coach for year two.

DENNIS TE KLOESE: The first year wasn't, obviously, good. The second year was extremely good, with Bob Bradley as a head coach, and after that Preki took over, and we had a good team, and they were playoff worthy and they challenged and they were competitive.

And I think with [signing Mexican stars] Claudio Suarez and Paco Palencia, those are guys that actually come and play, that come to work every day. Paco was so fit and he's such a leader, and he is a very, very good guy. He's a warrior. And I think that gave something different to the franchise at that point, but it didn't take away that the name has certain expectations, and that was a challenge.

It was a good experience for me and with my wife, and we had our first baby here. We always had obviously very, very nice memories of staying here. I got a very good opportunity to go back to Mexico to work for Tigres, and from Tigres I went to the [Mexican] federation, where I started as head of youth development or head of youth national teams. I did that for about five years, and then the last few years I was general director of the federation.

"U.S. Soccer has done a very good job, first of all, of identifying talent. Second of all, of implementing competitions. ... There is -- you see it in our own academy here at the LA Galaxy -- such a big growth from where it was 10-12 years ago to where it is now."

SA: At Tigres, you were very effective scouting in Southern California.

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I was always very, very intrigued with the amount of talent that there is in Southern California. And I don't only speak about Mexicans or Mexican-Americans -- I think there's an enormous amount of talent; there's so much influence from everything -- and at that point, I think a good step forward was going to Mexico because of the level and where at that point the development probably was in the United States.

We're talking about 10-12 years ago. I think over the last 10-12 years, U.S. Soccer has done a very good job, first of all, of identifying talent. Second of all, of implementing competitions, which maybe still need to be refined and further developed. But there is -- you see it in our own academy here at the LA Galaxy -- such a big growth from where it was 10-12 years ago to where it is now. I think if [an MLS academy] would come in here [to sign a player], parents and kids would have to sit down and really listen, while before it was a no-brainer of going somewhere else, because there wasn't hardly any real professional atmosphere [in the U.S.].

Now we have kids that are 18 years old and they've gone through four or five years of good development with good coaching and good competition and international competition. Now if that can still be improved, I think there shouldn't be any need to go somewhere else. It's one of our biggest responsibilities: We need to provide young kids a real developmental program that [makes their] initial choice to be here with us or within the United States.

SA: The Netherlands and Mexico are very different places. Having a Mexican wife, I imagine, eased your adaptation.

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I must say that helps that she's Mexican, and integrating in her family and also with such a traditional club as Chivas, it helps you a lot to understand the values and the way of thinking and how and what they appreciate and what they think of and judge as important and how they enjoy everything. Language-wise, I think it picked up pretty quickly. To be really adjusted, I think it's difficult, because I think you need to be native. There were always a little bit of challenges in certain things.

On the other hand, it also helped me to be a little bit different than everybody else that they have in the different spots that I've been, at Tigres and in the national team more than anything, because it gave me a little bit more of a neutral position on certain decisions or judgments or whatever. The soccer is such a high priority in society. And the national team, I thought more than anything it was an honor to represent Mexico as a foreigner and to be able to do good and to deliver results.

"I have a lot of Dutch influence, which helps and which gives a good perspective. But I've grown up and I think I've matured much more within Mexico."

SA: How did your time in Mexico alter or enhance your view of the game and how it should be played?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: In Holland, there is obviously a very clear idea of [the game]. They have a system of playing which they've worked with for years and which they have been very successful with, with open wingers, with players that can play in different positions. There's a very, very good training or coaches education program, with a lot of players and coaches going abroad and then bringing back their experiences.

Sometimes in Holland, they prefer that they play well over the result. And I think abroad, and more so in Mexico, where everything's short-term, result-driven, it's not always how you play, it's more to get results. And I think that it's an interesting combination, and you get more aware that there is a little bit more than the Dutch school. There's different systems of playing that can lead to success. I worked, for example, in the Mexican federation a long time in a system of a 4-4-2, basically on the quality of the Mexican players. They're physically not that big, but they have extremely fast and crafty players, and the wingers in all the youth national team cycles, they've been amazingly good.

I think you learn along the way. I've worked a long time in professional soccer, I think since 1999, but the last 16 years have been on the other side of the world, not in Holland. I think I have a lot of Dutch influence, which helps and which gives a good perspective. But I've grown up and I think I've matured much more within Mexico.

SA: How did you develop your eye for talent?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I think the experience is what you get over the years by watching a lot and listening and being humble and working hard and investing a lot of time in looking at things and trying to educate yourself in different styles, different players, different outcomes of players, where they're at. But I've always enjoyed it more than anything. I've always liked to scout players and watch games and try to picture younger players in a different environment along their career, or in a while from now, to figure out where they could end up.

I've always had it something that I'd like to see the players myself. And I'm very active still and trying to look for players or look for players that that could grow or are in a certain situation and maybe with a different environment could bloom or could do something. I've had the privilege to work with a lot of talented players and see them grow from very young, with all kinds of issues, and becoming something that they end up playing in Champions League, and that is I think it's one of the things that I really enjoy.


Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna, Diego Polenta and Cristian Pavon

SA: What told you that this job with the Galaxy was the right move for you?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: The opportunity was something, not that I had to think or decide overnight, but it came very quickly. After the World Cup, I was heavily involved in the hiring process of the new head coach for Mexico. In the end, it was my personal recommendation to hire [former Atlanta United boss] Gerardo Martino, who ended up being that coach. And even starting discussions with him on planning things.

All of a sudden, I got a phone call. I spoke to [Galaxy president] Chris Klein, and I met him and I met Mr. Dan Beckerman [the AEG president and chief executive officer] once. They asked me if I would be interested in working for them. I've always been a little bit hesitant of leaving a project that I started -- I always wanted to finish the two Olympic cycles, the World Cup cycle, things like that -- but now I felt that I've been to many events. Finished certain cycles. I did have a good discussion with Gerardo Martino, that he went from MLS to Mexico and I will go from Mexico to MLS.

But [coming here] has to do with not only the professional part of things, it has to do with my family and taking up a new challenge and with what the Galaxy represents in the United States and outside the United States, it's also something where I can prove myself and hopefully do the best for the club and position myself even better.

SA: What in your view have been the biggest steps the Galaxy have taken since you came aboard, and what are the areas that most need to be addressed?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: Well, the changes on a roster, they're challenging. It has to do with the restrictions and the rules that go with salary cap and contracts and every regulation that has to do with the MLS. I think there have been some changes, but it has had to be done step by step, obviously, with creating roster space and creating money on the salary cap to be able to make some changes, and that wasn't, for sure, very easy. And I think that's still somewhat of a work in progress.

On the other hand, hiring a coach with a different identity than they had at the Galaxy before [in Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto]. The Galaxy has been very, very successful, I think, with great credit to the coaches that have been here -- Sigi Schmid, Bruce Arena -- and I think now the MLS is in a phase that there is high responsibilities for a GM with international relations, with knowledge about development, with knowledge about scouting and knowledge about how to deal with foreign clubs, because there is still a great deal of foreign players that come into the league to make the league stronger. Hopefully, in the future, there will be less and less. Obviously for their national team program, it would be positive to have more Americans playing here.

And I think the other thing that that we did, we initiated change in our academy and our second team. From the first steps, I've tried to communicate that it's very important that our first team is very well-connected to our second team, with every need on the field and off the field and player-wise. That has to do with creating and developing our own players and that our academy is closely seen as a professional academy. We hired an academy director, [created] a different structure, and changed the second-team coach, and those are the main factors.

So you look at a coach and some changes, organizational structure-wise, and on the other hand I think there has been some players that that could be in MLS of high impact, like Cristian Pavon. Obviously Diego Polenta. Players like that that have a certain pedigree and on a personal level decided to come to the Galaxy.

"Our identity for the Galaxy should grow into something which is diverse and that reflects our city here."

SA: There's always been a Hispanic component to the Galaxy, but we've seen the club become more Hispanic this year, with yours and Schelotto's backgrounds, the coaching staff, Juan Carlos Ortega with the academy. The most important players you've brought in have been Hispanic. Is that a matter of function, in that these players were available and the right fit, or more about philosophy?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I think it's something that has a few angles. One, I think, for Guillermo working in Argentina and knowing very well that market, there's a certain trust level and comfort level to work with some players that he knows or has seen or has already scouted, and it's a great market. On the other hand, from my part, it's a little bit the same, and I hope to balance it out between USA and Mexico or Europe.

I think in the end, our identity for the Galaxy should grow into something which is diverse and that reflects our city here, which is diverse. And even though we have a South American coaching staff, I don't think that going forward everything or every player needs to come from South America. If the player is good and he's South American, that's fine, but if the player is American and he's good, that will be even better. And if the player is good and he's from Europe, more than welcome.

I think there is nothing geared towards that it needs to be Hispanic. I think we need to be good. I think we need to be competitive. I think we need to be able -- little by little, step by step -- live up to the rich history that the Galaxy has. I think for a first year and to change a few things, you go to something that you know and that you're close [to] and that you can control, which in the end have been players like Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna, Polenta, Pavon, guys like that.

SA: If we're talking a year from now, and I ask you what the biggest advances the club made from this point, what would you hope to answer?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I hope that in a year from now, we're a steady competitor for the first positions within our conference and that we play the style of soccer more consistently, what Guillermo wants to coach and wants to teach and wants to show. I think that we have had moments that we were able to show something, and we've had moments that we were good, but we haven't been very consistent, obviously, as you've seen throughout the year. And hopefully with time and adding some pieces and molding the roster in a certain way, I think we could be ending up with a steady competitor and living up to the great history that's been here and the expectations that there are. Which I think are fair, to be honest.

SA: Juan Carlos Ortega, whose official title is director of methodology and development, will have spent a full year with the academy by then. In what ways does the academy most need to advance?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I think in the Academy, it's not so much directly about the results. What we need is that our players acquire tactical and technical knowledge, and that's his specialty. That they live up and basically show the values and the image of a Galaxy player and that they are recognized for that, that their education here is [at the highest standard], and that they really want to be here.

The organization is diverse. Juan Carlos is from Mexico, [academy technical director] Sacha Van der Most is from Holland, and we have [girls academy director] Kevin Hartman -- “El Gato,” as he prefers to be called and a club legend -- and [Galaxy II coach] Junior Gonzalez as Americans. I think that gives a little bit of of how different cultures make each other stronger, how different cultures can also complement and add to each other, and I think in our second team and in our academy in a year from now, we'll see that reflected on the field, without any doubt.

In the first team, obviously, with a coach that's been successful in both Boca and Lanus, and as a player here in MLS, I think with hard work and being very proactive and ambitious, I think we should be going forward. We should strive for being more competitive and obviously a stable competitor.

SA: Are there specific areas on the field where you have to get better, where you need an upgrade?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: It's difficult [to say], because we haven't been able sometimes even to count on the entire roster, with so many [international] call-ups, and we had some strange injuries. We've played the entire season without one DP, which obviously hurts you in this league, and those are the things that now we're working through. I think in certain moments, and maybe not enough moments, but in certain moments we've shown that we are capable of playing a high quality of soccer.

"In the case of Zlatan, we completely agreed to sit down after the season and see where he's at personally, professionally, physically, and everything else."

SA: Do you expect that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristian Pavon will be back next season?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: In the case of Pavon, it's our option to decide. He also wants to have a stable environment; he doesn't want to go, after a couple of months, somewhere else. And in the case of Zlatan, we completely agreed to sit down after the season and see where he's at personally, professionally, physically, and everything else. He is a luxury asset in this league and for the club, to be honest, and we need to be cautious on saying anything that I think could take a little bit of credit away for what he's done, first of all for the sport and second of all for our club. He's scored so many goals, and, little by little, he also understands more the mechanisms of MLS and he takes advantage of it.

SA: Would you be able to bring Pavon back as anything other than a DP, or do you expect you might have to make a DP decision, as you did this year with Giovani Dos Santos?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: Yeah, we will probably have to make a decision.

SA: How have you seen MLS grow since you first came here with Chivas USA a decade and a half ago?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: The game has grown enormously. I think the league, the teams, the people that work in it, the coaches, they're not even close to being comparable to what it was 10, 12, 15 years ago. It's just evolved so much, and it's so much more of a priority than it used to be that I think that the growth and how it's been managed by both MLS and the club teams individually, you cannot say anything more than it's so positive. There's still a lot of things that can be done, obviously. But for sure that'll take a little bit of time.

SA: What can we as a soccer nation -- and MLS as a soccer league -- learn from Mexico, from the FMF and Liga MX? Are there things you've seen there that maybe we don't get or we're only starting to understand?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I think first of all here, you don't need to be so hasty or wanting. I think you have to go step by step.

One of the things that I think you can very much learn from the Mexican league is how they set up their youth national leagues. I think the biggest component of success for their youth national team and current national team depth and talent is they started with U-20, U-17, U-15, U-13 national leagues where the best players against the best players every single week compete. And it makes it easy to scout.

You can develop in training sessions, but I think you finish your development in competition and in playing games and acquiring a certain level of maturity and savviness and ideas and physical abilities through games. To step up with the development component here in the United States, I think a big thing has to do with the the competition structure of the country.

SA: As young a soccer nation as we are, are there things we can offer to the world that they don't possess?

DENNIS TE KLOESE: I think in such a short period of time to position yourself as a professional sport is something amazing and to be proud about. If you see certain games in the MLS league of the level that what it is currently -- if you see a LA Galaxy-LAFC game -- that is a high-level game. And I think the atmosphere and everything that lives up to it is pretty close to a genuine big game anywhere played.

And now you see teams and the crowds they draw. We've been in Cincinnati for 40-something thousand people. You see Atlanta, you see Seattle. So I think there's a lot of things here to be proud about. There are a lot of good people [in the American game]. I think the U.S. has shown a lot of positives in their last few youth national team cycles, which obviously gives hope for the future with U17s, U20s. They've been managed very well with Rafa Wicky and Tab Ramos.

I think with Earnie Stewart now being a [Sporting Director] overseeing every single technical aspect, I think that's a very good step, and to have a young and good, progressive coach [like Gregg Berhalter] who takes risks, and he'll be fine. And there's more than enough talent, I think, to grow up on. And I think that not playing the World Cup is more an incident than a regular thing, to be honest.

Photo (Ibrahimovic): Robert Mora/LA Galaxy
4 comments about "GM Dennis te Kloese on the Galaxy's revival, his Dutch-Mexican influence, and American soccer's progress".
  1. Bob Ashpole, October 2, 2019 at 10:57 p.m.

    Good interview. He didn't say anthing that wasn't politically correct, but then I wouldn't expect him to.

  2. frank schoon, October 3, 2019 at 6:34 a.m.

    Couldn’t wait to get through this interview. I kept scrolling down to see how much further to go. I can see he’s been away from Holland much to long for he deals in PC way too much.

    I wish SA would interview someone like a Frank de Boer ,a Tata or like Zlatan, Dest, in other words someone from the other side of the equation who are technicians of the game who can give some valuable insights on the game ITSELF. All we read about are constant interviews about people on the organizational side of soccer...we need a little more balance. There’s only so much you can cover from the organizational side of things, before it gets redundant.....

  3. Eric Jensen, October 3, 2019 at 11:12 a.m.

    solid.

  4. Larry Chen, October 4, 2019 at 2:54 p.m.

    Enjoyable article. Thank you.

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