So when it comes to the impact of Major League Soccer on the development of young players in the United States - about which Washington Post writer Paul Tenorio wrote a very interesting piece that ran today - I want to try to be a small part of the solution. It’s an extremely important topic for both MLS and American soccer, and Tenorio did a good job of efficiently discussing the multiple aspects of a very complex issue.
As far as possible solutions, Tenorio primarily mentions partnerships with minor-league clubs and an increased investment in the MLS Reserve League. Of the two, I would favor the latter, where players will remain more connected to the MLS club and will play, generally speaking, on better fields. MLS teams currently play 10-game Reserve League schedules, but several considerations - mostly financial, as I understand it - prevent the league from running a full 34-game Reserve League, in which each MLS fixture is mirrored at the lower level. Given the travel required and the lack of any tangible revenue from a reserve game in most markets, the financials will continue to make it a tough sell.
It is a third option that most intrigues me, however, one raised by MLSsoccer.com’s Jonah Freedman in this April column. Read on for more ...
For several seasons around 2008, Mexico’s top division had a rule, Regla de Menores, legislating that, on each team, at least one U-20 player compete in at least 1,000 minutes out of the 1,530 minutes available during an abbreviated Mexican season. Failure to do so resulted in that team being docked three points in the final standings.
Now my guess is that MLS coaches would not be thrilled to deal with this rule, and I don’t suggest it be implemented exactly as in Mexico. But I think the MLS competition committee would do well to try a variant of the rule, perhaps requiring that each team give a total of at least 3,000 minutes (out of a team total of 33,660 for a 34-game season) to players aged 21 or younger. It would provide meaningful, pressurized playing time for additional young players, yet still give teams flexibility to satisfy the rule with multiple U-21 players, rather than almost requiring one U-21 player to be a full-time starter.
|1992||Perry Kitchen - GA||DC||USA||1,108|
|1991||Zac MacMath - GA||PHI||USA||810|
|1991||Ashtone Morgan - HG||TFC||CAN||796|
|1993||Luis Gil - GA||RSL||USA||775|
|1993||Andy Najar - HG||DC||HON||765|
|1991||Kelyn Rowe - GA||NE||USA||650|
|1991||Danny Mwanga - GA||PHI*||DRC||548|
|1991||Zarek Valentin - GA||MTL||USA||425|
|1993||Omar Salgado - GA||VAN||USA||385|
|1993||Doneil Henry - HG||TFC||CAN||373|
|1992||Jose Erik Correa||CHV||COL||366|
|1992||Bryan Leyva - HG||FCD||MEX||363|
|1992||Juan Agudelo* - HG||NY|
|1992||Andrew Jean-Baptiste - GA||POR||USA||336|
|1991||Amobi Okugo - GA||PHI||USA||160|
|1992||Jack McInerney - GA||PHI||USA||93|
|1995||Diego Fagundez - HG||NE||URU||78|
|1991||Roger Torres (inj.)||PHI||COL||72|
|1992||Matt Stinson - HG||TFC||CAN||68|
|1992||Ruben Luna - HG||FCD||MEX||40|
|1993||Jonathan Top - HG||FCD||USA||30|
|1992||Tyler Polak - GA||NE||USA||30|
|1993||Cristhian Hernandez - HG||PHI||MEX/|
|1991||Kofi Sarkodie (inj.) - GA||HOU|
Perhaps tellingly, only seven of the 21 players have pledged their international futures to the U.S., although a couple could still wind up with the U.S. So even if MLS mandated minutes for young players, it would not always benefit U.S. players. That might be one counter-argument to an MLS version of the Regla de Menores, since the Mexican league is much more homogenous than MLS. Those mandated minutes might not wind up benefiting the U.S. national team.
So is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not. But I think it deserves some consideration when considering the future of youth development in MLS.
This list also makes for interesting reading. Of the 34 total players on the list, 12 are Generation adidas and 10 are home-grown players. Of the 21 players who have played at least 300 minutes, 7 are Generation adidas and five are home-grown. Not a huge difference between those numbers, and a slight edge to GA players, which might indicate that, not surprisingly, MLS academies have not yet cornered the market on young talent. Many elite players still come up through other clubs or the U.S. youth national team system and enter MLS via the college ranks. While this ratio may change over the years, as MLS teams recruit young talent more actively, it certainly indicates that MLS academies are unlikely to be responsible for all development of elite talent in the near future.