Major League Soccer announced on Thursday that it has inked four players to 2014 Generation Adidas contracts, including Andre Blake (GK, University of Connecticut), Marlo Hairston (MF, University of Louisville), Eric Miller, (D, Creighton University) and Ntokozo “Schillo” Tshuma (F, University of Maryland). Although those players are not yet widely known, history suggests that most of those players will soon make names for themselves on the professional stage.
Generation Adidas is a joint youth development program between MLS and Adidas. Until 2005, Nike sponsored a similar program, called Project-40. The Generation Adidas program is designed to offer collegiate underclassmen and amateur soccer players who are not currently in an MLS academy the opportunity to leave college early or skip college entirely in favor of playing in MLS. Players that have trained and developed in an MLS academy may sign contracts that are similar to Generation Adidas contracts, but are considered Homegrown Players.
One of the primary distinctions between Generation Adidas players and Homegrown Players is that Generation Adidas players are allocated to an MLS team under one of the MLS allocation processes. Most commonly, the players are allocated through the MLS SuperDraft (the 2014 SuperDraft will take place on January 16 in Philadelphia). Generation Adidas players who sign with MLS after the SuperDraft are allocated to an MLS team via lottery. On the other hand, Homegrown Players who sign with MLS are automatically allocated to the MLS team in whose academy they trained as a youth player.
Players benefit from the program by developing their talent in a professional setting. Further, players that sign Generation Adidas contracts are guaranteed three years in Major League Soccer and receive a stipend to continue their education while training and playing professionally.
MLS teams benefit greatly by rostering Generation Adidas players. Generation Adidas players do not count against the current salary budget of $2,950,000 for each team, allowing MLS teams to more freely negotiate with important youth talent in the face of competition from clubs in Europe and Mexico. MLS teams need not concern themselves with the impact of a Generation Adidas player’s compensation on the team’s budget, and teams can therefore afford to pay Generation Adidas picks higher salaries, while focusing on development of those players. (MLS teams may also sign up to two Homegrown Players to contracts with salaries similar to Generation Adidas contract amounts; such Homegrown Players’ salaries do not count against the teams’ respective salary budgets.)
Since the implementation of the Project-40 program in 1997, 186 players have signed Project-40 or Generation Adidas contracts with MLS. Among the players who have signed Project-40 or Generation Adidas contracts are Tim Howard, Ben Olsen, Josh Wolff, DaMarcus Beasely, Kyle Beckerman, Carlos Bocanegra, Danny Califf, Nick Rimando, Eddie Johnson, Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Mike Magee, Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Clarence Goodson, Brad Guzan, Michael Parkhurst, Jozy Altidore, Kei Kamara, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Maurice Edu, Roger Espinoza, Brek Shea, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and Kelyn Rowe. That list, as impressive as it is, represents only a small percentage of the players who have taken advantage of Project-40 or Generation Adidas and have gone on to make an impact in MLS and abroad. In particular:
- Of the 18 MLS Rookie of the Year Award winners, 7 have come from the Project-40 and Generation Adidas ranks: Ben Olsen, Carlos Bocanegra, Kyle Martino, Clint Dempsey, Michael Parkhurst, Maurice Edu, and Omar Gonzalez.
- Players who began their careers in MLS through Project-40 or Generation Adidas have been represented in the MLS Best XI 25 times, and 18 of those Best XI awards have come since 2006.
- Mike Magee is the only Project-40 or Generation Adidas player to receive the MLS Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, taking the MVP award home in 2013. Three other players, Edson Buddle (in 2010), Brad Davis (in 2011), and Brek Shea (in 2011), have been finalists for the MLS MVP Award.
- 47 different Project-40 or Generation Adidas players have earned caps with the senior U.S. men’s national team, accounting for almost 1,250 U.S. national team caps.
- 2 former Project-40 and Generation Adidas players went on to become starting place kickers for Division 1 college football teams: Devin Barclay (Ohio State) and Josh Lambo (Texas A&M).
Prior to 2000, MLS specifically allocated Project-40 players to MLS teams. Thereafter, teams selected Project-40 and Generation Adidas players in the annual SuperDraft. Of course, understanding this information requires consideration of the impact of expansion and contraction, but since 2000, some franchises have traditionally demonstrated a strong interest in Project-40 and Generation Adidas players, taking advantage of the talent pool and the salary budget incentive.
Number of Project-40 or Generation Adidas Players Selected in SuperDraft by MLS Team (Since 2000)
Although by no means a predictor of how teams will make selections in 2014 and in the future, the table illuminates some interesting facts.
- FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls headline the table in terms of total players drafted. FC Dallas can boast some foresight with the selections of Eddie Johnson (2001), Clarence Goodson (2004), Drew Moor (2005), Dax McCarty (2006), and Brek Shea (2008) among players that have had an opportunity to develop on the professional stage. The Red Bulls (formerly the MetroStars) have selected an impressive array of Generation Adidas talent with Brad Davis (2002), Ricardo Clark (2003), Eddie Gaven (2003), Mike Magee (2003), Michael Bradley (2004), Jozy Altidore (2006), and Marvell Wynne (2006), although the extent to which the franchise developed and benefitted from that talent could be debated.
- Since 2000 and of the teams currently playing in MLS, Columbus and Toronto have selected the fewest Project-40 and Generation Adidas players per draft, averaging 0.428 Project-40 or Generation Adidas players per draft in which the teams were participating. Vancouver (1.333 players per draft) and Philadelphia (1.25 players per draft) are the clubs that most frequently draft Project-40 and Generation Adidas players, while FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls (each, at 1.142 players per draft) are tied for third.
- The Colorado Rapids, a founding member of MLS, have selected just 6 Project-40 and Generation Adidas players since 2000, while Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake have selected the same number of players since 2005, its first season in MLS.
For every Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey that signed a Project-40 or Generation Adidas contract and went on to professional stardom, others have fizzled without making their mark on MLS or the professional stage. The latter group of players appears to be the aberration. Looking at the historical performances and success of Project-40 and Generation Adidas players, Generation Adidas players seem to be a fairly safe bet on draft day.
As the 2014 SuperDraft approaches, the likelihood of success for players who sign Generation Adidas contracts and enter the SuperDraft remains high. Blake, Hairston, Miller, and Tshuma will hope to continue the positive impact young players have on the league, while benefiting from MLS’s continued partnership with Adidas.