Last week MLS announced that it signed three more players to Generation Adidas contracts, adding Christian Dean, (D, University of California), AJ Cochran (D, University of Wisconsin), and Damion Lowe (D, University of Hartford) to the 2014 Generation Adidas class. The three additions round out the 2014 class to seven signed players, which also includes 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).
As discussed last week on Business of Soccer, the historical performances of Generation Adidas players suggest that this year’s class will prove to be an impressive group of recruits for MLS. The class is relatively small: with just 7 players, it matches the size of the 2013 class, which is the smallest class since the 2002 Nike Project-40 class, which also yielded 7 players. The 2002 class was the first class after MLS contraction, in which the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion folded.
By contrast with the 2002 class, the smaller Generation Adidas class sizes over the last two years are evidence of MLS’s developmental growth: MLS teams are signing more and more youth players with Generation Adidas-level talent to Homegrown Player contracts, which have terms and salary amounts that are similar to Generation Adidas contracts. Homegrown Players sign directly with the teams that trained them as youth players and are not allocated to MLS teams through the SuperDraft. Players who have signed Homegrown Player contracts over the last two years include Gyasi Zardes (2013 with L.A. Galaxy), Wil Trapp (2013 with Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (2013 with Seattle Sounders), and Harrison Shipp (2014 with Chicago Fire).
The 2014 Generation Adidas class will learn its collective fate on Thursday, January 16 in Philadelphia during the MLS SuperDraft. It’s unlikely, however, that the 2014 class members will have to wait long on Saturday. Since the inception of the MLS SuperDraft in 2000, Project-40 and Generation Adidas players have been selected with the first pick of the SuperDraft in 12 of 14 drafts, and the last non-Project-40 or non-Generation Adidas player to be selected with the first pick of the draft was in 2002, when the Dallas Burn selected Chris Gbandi with the first pick (Brad Davis was the first Project-40 player selected in the that draft, when the MetroStars selected him with the third pick).
After the first pick, Generation Adidas players will likely come off the availability board quickly. In 14 SuperDrafts, the average draft position of the final Project-40 or Generation Adidas player selected is 32.8. Since 2006, the average draft position of the final Generation Adidas Player selected is 24.25. The latter number is skewed somewhat by the Chicago Fire’s selection in 2010 of Sean Johnson with the 51st pick, a pick that has turned out well for the Fire. All told, the final Project-40 or Generation Adidas player selected in the SuperDraft was drafted the quickest in 2013 and 2007, when Mikey Lopez and Fuad Ibrahim, respectively, were selected with the 14th picks. Miguel Saavedra had to wait the longest of any Project-40 or Generation Adidas player to be selected, with the Dallas Burn drafting him 67th in the 2001 SuperDraft.
There are two factors at play when it comes to MLS teams selecting Generation Adidas players quickly in the SuperDraft. First, the Generation Adidas players have been vetted by scouts, MLS, and Generation Adidas reps. Their status as a Generation Adidas player is as much an accomplishment as it is a validation of talent and skill. Second, salary amounts for Generation Adidas contracts are not counted in the calculation of the MLS teams’ salary budgets, so there is less downside to taking a flyer on a Generation Adidas player that needs significant development or that has not proven himself on a competitive stage. The result is often positive: the MetroStars drafted 16-year-old Michael Bradley with the 36th pick of the 2004 draft, taking the future star as the last Project-40 player drafted in 2004.
As the picks roll in on Saturday, look for MLS teams to quickly snatch up the Generation Adidas players. For the 2014 class, the work begins to fill the boots of Generation Adidas graduates.