At a time when MLS is touting its development of young professionals through so-called “homegrown” signings, a majority of those prospects are not getting on the field. Some have been outright discarded.
Of the 52 homegrown players — prospects from MLS youth academies signed to professional contracts — who have signed with MLS clubs since 2008, 27 failed to make any league appearances in 2011 or thus far in the 2012 season. Eight have been released.
Without a functional system in place to give such players actual game experience, MLS risks stagnating their development, thus also likely curbing the long-term growth of the American player pool.
“That is definitely a concern,” U.S. men’s national team coach Juergen Klinsmann said during a conference call with reporters on April 4. “And it’s definitely a topic we want to bring up with [MLS Commissioner] Don Garber and MLS because we want to make sure that especially younger groups of players get as much exposure as possible coming through their developmental stage.
“I know that an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old is not at the same level as an experienced player and a proven player, but we’ve got to make sure that they get the chance to break through and get their minutes in.”
Languishing on the bench
MLS teams founded academy systems to recruit top players from their designated territories. An MLS team, in theory, would provide better coaching and a better environment to develop players than club teams or high school programs. The young players would benefit by coming up in a professional atmosphere, at times practicing and interacting with MLS players, coaches and administrators while playing games against other MLS youth teams and top club-level teams in the U.S. Development Academy, a league founded in 2007 by U.S. Soccer.
The academies aim to mimic a structure similar to those used around the world, where professional clubs cull new talent from within — famously so at Spanish giant Barcelona’s La Masia academy and the Dutch powerhouse Ajax academy.
In 2008, MLS created a “homegrown player” initiative in which clubs could sign players who had participated in a club’s youth development academy for at least one year. Those homegrown players would not count against the salary cap and teams would receive a larger percentage of any transfer fee if the player were sold to another club.
The rule gave players a more direct route to a professional contract in the United States, while incentivizing MLS teams to develop and sign local players.