The Sweeper: MLS Youth Development, on the Right Track?
Youth development is often considered at the level of the US Soccer federation, but what progress has there been this year from MLS and its clubs?
It flew under the radar, but MLS’ Board of Governors’ decision in July to allow clubs to sign two “homegrown” players from their academies who would not count against the 24-man roster limit this year (though nor can they play in league matches) is starting to bear fruit (last year, a few clubs faced dilemmas over whether to sign an Academy player who might not be able to contribute to the first team, risking losing them abroad).
Last month, DC United signed their first player from their youth academy, goalkeeper Abdul Hamid. Last week, the Red Bulls followed suit as they signed youth academy product Giorgi Chirgadze and just this week, FC Dallas announced the signing of Bryan Leyva, a Mexico U-17 international from their academy. This is definite progress, with MLS’ participation in US Soccer’s Youth Development Academy structure obviously now paying off. All three had been linked with clubs abroad.
On the other side of the coin, U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen this week criticised MLS for abolishing the reserve league in the last offseason, which he says has restricted playing time for young players, partially explaining why he has less than he’d hoped in his U-20 World Cup squad. “You rely on their development with their respective clubs and situations and not too many of them are getting first team playing time, and since there’s no reserve league some guys aren’t getting enough games, or games at all, and that concerns me.”
With the academies strengthening and finally producing MLS-quality players, a return of the reserve league (or other integration of a true developmental league) is critical to increasing the flow of players into senior rosters, allowing them playing time and more opportunity for first team coaches to assess their readiness for MLS play and keep them match fit. MLS clubs have made progress with their academies, and the league now needs to cement a structure to integrate them into the professional system.
- The New York Times has perhaps the most convoluted explanation of why diving isn’t good for football ever written. I’m all for a little academic insight into sport and some intellectual peroration — the author of the piece is grandly titled as the president of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport — but I’m not sure one needs a PhD to conclude that “Soccer does not flourish when diving occurs. . .Perhaps, the more diving is condemned, the less players will be inclined to use it.” Well, yes. You don’t say. The bigger question is how we get to that cultural point in the sport, aside from NYT opinion pieces.
- David Conn reminds us why he’s the best journalist in English football, with a fantastic three-part feature on the engimatic ownership behind Manchester City’s fortune. And there’s an excellent pictorial review of Manchester City’s transformation on the Guardian as well. Meanwhile, City claim their focus is now on their youth academy.
- When is scoring a boatload of goals (81 goals in 93 league starts) not enough for a first-choice striker? When you’re Rangers’ forward Kris Boyd, left-out of Champions League play by Walter Smith for his lack of all-round contribution and fear that he’s a flat-track bully.
- What would happen to American soccer if influential anti-immigration lobbying organisation FAIR had had their way in the past thirty years of their campaigning? As the debate on immigration reform heats up again in DC with FAIR lobbying Congress this week on their near-zero immigration platform, Imagine 2050 considers the potential impact on diversity in soccer.
- There could be more upheaval in USL, with reports coming out that the Cleveland City Stars may be moving to Elkhart, Indiana. The Stars’ sudden promotion to USL-1 was a bridge too far for the club.
The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter. Many thanks to Richard Whittall of A More Splendid Life for holding down the fort in my absence earlier this week; he’ll be back sweeping up at the weekend.