The Present & Future of MLS (Part II): Homegrown Players & The Teams They Sign For

Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson all have something in common with Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst, Sir Trevor Brooking and Paul Ince and it’s not that they’re all English.  They all came through the same East London youth academy at West Ham United.

More recently Southampton has been a pretty consistent conveyor belt of talent bringing through the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Camberlain, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana while Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon boasts Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Joao Moutinho, and Rui Patricio, among it’s graduates, not to mention Ajax’s esteemed list which includes Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard, Edgar Davids, Wesley Sneijder and Frank De Boer.

The Youth Academies among MLS clubs are nowhere near the point of development to be able to produce talent on the same consistency as West Ham, Southampton, Sporting or Ajax as the league and the club’s are simply too young, but its hard to argue that they aren’t models to potentially emulate in some regard.

Part I of this look at homegrown players (HGP) in Major League Soccer took the profile of the players from the viewpoint of annual classes in an effort to gauge potential progress in the league overall since 2008 when the homegrown rule was put into effect.

According to the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations, in order for a player to be considered homegrown he has to have “trained for at least one year in the club’s youth development program and has trained 80 days with the academy during that year.” One year isn’t exactly the whole development process for a player and if a club meets only that minimum and signs the player it could be hard to argue that the club’s academy actually developed them. It is, however, important to understand that the homegrown player rule was meant to act as an incentive to both invest in academy programs AND retain local talent.

These incentives include homegrown salaries not contributing towards the salary cap, and while a club can sign an unlimited number of HGPs in a year, a club can sign up to two HGP’s above the minimum salary levels to Generation Adidas Levels annually.

Read: The Present and Future of MLS (Part I): A Profile of Homegrown Players in the League

Part II takes a different approach from Part I. Rather than looking at the players as they have been brought through and offered professional homegrown contracts, this profile looks at each club in Major League Soccer and which clubs have produced and incorporated homegrown talent using the same metrics (MLSPU Salary Data & Castrol Index) as Part I. Like Part I, inactive players are not included in the count simply because the goal of the league is to keep their players and while sales of players abroad that have come through academies can be an indicator of effective youth development, it’s more important for MLS to look at the players who have chosen to stay.

At the very basic level, this count shows where each of the currently 80 active homegrown players ply their trade.

From this count the Canadian contingent should be applauded as they occupy three of the top 5 spots with Montreal tied for first with FC Dallas, Vancouver tied for second with Columbus and Toronto tied for third with LA. Another thing to note is that Seattle and Philadelphia should in fact have one less player, while DC United and LA Galaxy should each be plus one. This is because Ethan White (Philadelphia) and Tristan Bowen (Seattle) both signed homegrown player contracts from the DC United and LA Galaxy academies respectively and they represent the only homegrown players currently in the league to have been traded to other teams.

Portland & San Jose clearly have the least with only one homegrown player on their rosters each and as we’ll see later Portland is a little worse off with Steven Evans having not contributed at all to the current campaign evidenced by the fact that he has no Castrol Rating.

Sheer numbers aren’t everything though, having the most HGPs means nothing if they aren’t playing. MLS Homegrown CastrolAs it turns out, Montreal has both the numbers and the performance with the Canadian club showing the most value per salary dollar spent. The other top number clubs in FC Dallas, Toronto, Vancouver Columbus and LA all fall outside the top 5 in terms of value per Castrol Index point. Looking at the points per minute though Montreal soon finds itself on the opposite end of the table while Seattle, and Chicago show the overall best HGP Castrol Rated performances per minute on the field.

The number of players in this analysis is just over half of the total 80 because the breakdown only looked at players with Castrol Ratings.  Players without them may either be sitting on the bench, or loaned to USL affiliates.

Another more basic metric though is simply the number of minutes players are getting. As shown in Part I, 20 HGPs have been signed so far in 2014, and 22 were signed in 2013 which accounts for more than half the HGPs in the league. As much as performance related to salary is important for clubs, its also important to take a step back and look at the minutes. Younger developing players need minutes to acclimate to the league which even foreign DP’s have admitted is at a pace and level they simply underestimated.

Having high points per minute for your homegrown players is great as it shows that when HGPs get on the field they are performing, but not every player immediately transitions and there is something to be said about a young player having the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them in a game setting. Mistakes can lead to crucial player development and yet it would also lead to lower performance ratings.  At the moment, FC Dallas, Columbus and New England are offering their HGPs the most minutes on the field irrespective to Castrol Performance points.

These are all just statistics, like in Part I, all they do is contribute to a better understanding of the present. As far as being predictive of future contribution per team it’s impossible to say, no team has produced a player every year since the creation of the homegrown player rule, and clubs like Montreal and have signed a majority of their players in the last two years. Only FC Dallas shows a consistent record of bringing players through having signed players consistently every year since 2010.

The fact is that at the moment club academy systems are not the only avenues to playing in MLS. College via the Superdraft, and Generation Adidas still provide attractive alternatives for players looking to play professionally in the United States.  On top of that Youth academies are still competing with local area youth clubs.  Jose Villareal, an LA Galaxy HGP was previously with local club Pateadores when he moved to LA’s youth system for a year and subsequently got an HGP contract.

Right now MLS clubs are still in the process of building out academies, creating U-23 teams in USL and creating partnerships with local area youth clubs, though they face competition from European clubs coming in and creating relationships themselves.  The profiles shown here and in Part I aren’t meant to be indicative of a positive or negative trend, there is simply n0t enough data to make any kind of conclusion but what it should do is shed some light on where exactly the league is in terms of homegrown players and some of the progress made since 2008.

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