Major League Soccer

MLS youth programs could be headed your way

One of the more under-publicized aspects of Major League Soccer’s player development initiatives is the fact that new rules allow MLS clubs to establish affiliated youth teams outside of their own immediate territories. It is a rule that, in theory, could lead to teams establishing satellite youth programs throughout the country.

Don’t follow? In essence, a team like the Los Angeles Galaxy could establish and pay for a youth academy system in a non-MLS market, say Tampa or Nebraska, and eventually sign players from that satellite system. At present, the only team to move toward taking advantage of this rule is Real Salt Lake, which set up a youth system in Florida (a second RSL program in Arizona falls under Real Salt Lake’s actual territory as recognized by MLS). It should be noted that sources at RSL have stated that the arrangement in Florida is being re-evaluated (it was established by former RSL coach John Ellinger).

So why have this rule in place? It allows clubs that are located in areas of this country where there is less soccer talent to supplement their player development programs.

Worried about big-money clubs like the Galaxy and the Red Bulls using this rule to start building programs all over? Don’t be. MLS has rules in place to make that less of a possibility.

MLS has established limits on the number of players that can be brought up and included into the parent club’s youth programs from these satellite clubs. The limits are based on market size, so bigger-market clubs can’t pull as many players from a satellite program as smaller-market clubs. This makes it less profitable for bigger clubs to invest in satellite programs, though most are probably more inclined to invest in their own areas to begin with.

Here is the breakdown of how many players from outside territories can be added to MLS team’s homegrown player lists and therefore signed to the senior team or signed by another MLS team:

One Player- Red Bulls, Galaxy, Chivas USA and Chicago

Two Players- FC Dallas, D.C. United, Houston, New England

Four Players- Columbus, Colorado, Kansas City, Real Salt Lake

So why would the smaller-market teams add four outside-area players to their homegrown lists when they can only sign two a year? There is also value in revenue generated when other teams come in and sign your homegrown players.

One important fact to note is that teams can’t just place programs anywhere in the United States. MLS has designated certain markets as off-limits to satellite programs, in large part to protect the interests of potential expansion teams (so don’t expect the Fire to start a program in St. Louis or the Red Bulls in Philadelphia.)

Overall, this aspect of the player development initiatives is an appealing one and it will be interesting to see which clubs take full advantage of this. So if you’re sitting in Omaha or Santa Fe or Nashville, take heart, an MLS club just might be looking to plant roots in your hometown sometime soon.

As always, share your thoughts on this story below.

  • Ted

    Which club has territorial rights to Oklahoma? Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, and even Colorado are all close. I’m sure nobody is fighting over who gets to place an academy in Oklahoma, but people forget that Joe-Max Moore is from Tulsa. There is some talent out here waiting to be tapped, and if nobody has rights to it, then a smaller club like Colorado or Real Salt Lake could certainly take a chance.


  • Art

    I hope the Red Bulls settle down in Fairfield County, Connecticut but if not, I welcome any MLS club to do so!


  • Chris

    What category does Toronto fall under? We may not be in America but we are a part of MLS? Can Toronto set up satellite youth programs in America or are they restricted to only Canada (outside of Montreal and Vancouver)?


  • Aaron


    Must admit I got a little excited reading you mention Nashville. Of course those three cities you mentioned could be ones you pulled out of thin air. It’s probably too early to know but can you confirm or deny any cities you know clubs have an interest in? This sort of program sounds like a great initiative to expand the MLS fanbase. Those of us wandering about in decent sized markets with no team nearby can finally find a reason to start rooting for one!


  • Ossington Mental Youth

    Good thing the MLS isnt making this unnecessarily difficult.

    How about just allowing any team to set up a school in any market and allowing them to compete for players etc. This 1 player, 2 player nonsense needs to go.


  • Nicholas Skyles

    I don’t understand how NY and LA can be “big money teams.” It’s not like the Yankees v. the Royals, right?

    it’s a pretty rigid cap and outside of DP slots, there isn’t a lot of money going to salary. It’s not like MLB (no cap) or NBA (you can go over and pay a tax).

    I guess you could spend 10 million on a DP, but you can’t use a giant budget on the whole roster. so I don’t see how there can be that much of a monetary advantage from one team to another.


  • Mickey

    Snarky, cynical but well-intentioned response to the proposal: Doesn’t the proposal require the assumption that MLS will actually enforce the rules?


  • Hincha Tim

    Interesting about the “protected” markets for potential expansion markets. What are the other markets besides St. Louis and Philly that are protected. It might give some insight in who the MLS is seriously considering for expansion. Is Portland one of the protected markets? Vancouver? Montreal?


  • Ossington Mental Youth

    Well played Mickey.
    It will enforce the rules but only for certain teams.

    Too many regulations in this league are going to stiffle the growth. I know itll be a long process but this particular situation is unnecessary. If anything itll force teams like New England (who refuse to spend), KC and Columbus (who have little support) to grow or move on.


  • Ives

    A few answers:

    I believe Toronto and San Jose are still being analyzed to determine what category they will go in.

    The cities I mentioned were out of thin air. Sorry Nashville, I just thought of a soccer hotbed not near any MLS teams.

    I am hoping to find out the protected markets, but as you understand, the league may not want to divulge these.

    As for the big-money, small-market designated. While all teams do adhere to a cap, there is no restriction on what teams spend outside of that cap. So in theory, Red Bull can pump far more money into youth academy stuff as say a KC or Columbus (in theory). I think the smaller market clubs asked for these sorts of protections and they make sense, although to be honest I’m not sure how much money the big-market clubs are really going to invest in satellite programs when there is so much talent in their own markets.

    That’s all for now. I’m writing this from the NJ Turnpike, on my way to the airport. And no, I’m not actually driving, I pulled over to write the Conway news.


  • dwbpnm

    Nicholas and Ossington the problem is that a team with “big-money” owners/market could in theory set up youth programs everywhere and then have first choice on nearly every player in the country (kinda like the Canadians had for a bit in the NHL). While this wouldn’t ensure that the team would win the title every year it would ensure that they’d almost always be towards the top of the league.
    I’m not sure there should be a complete ban on establishing a program in potential expansion sites. All the league needs is a rule stating that once the expansion team comes into existance its territorial rights will force the team to disband its youth program in that area. Resulting in all players which havent already been claimed by the parent team having to move/travel to a city where the parent team has a presence, joining the expansion team’s youth program, or dropping out of the MLS program all together. This will pretty much prevent a team from setting up a youth system in an expansion market, but if a team wants to gamble on when a city will get an expansion franchise they could get a player or two out of it in return. Most of the youth program players would join the expansion franchise’s setup and since in theory these programs produce better players the expansion franchise will actually get a bit of a boost from the groundwork layed by the first MLS team.


  • dwbpnm

    A few questions:
    Is there a place where each team’s territorial rights are listed? I assume not since this is MLS.

    Do the banned expansion cities also have banned territorial rights associated with them(ex. St. Louis might have Arkansas)?

    Can multiple teams set up a youth program in the same location? For example is florida(or some portion of it) now effectively RSL’s territory?


  • Ossington Mental Youth

    To be clear, I dont mind the bit about blocking out possibly expansion markets, i dont however like the lack of competitiveness in other markets like Arizona or what have you that are clearly not targets for future expansion, that i think is foolish. Anyone should be fair game to set up schools in those areas.


  • Footiefan

    They may not be “big-money” but they are “big-market” and thus have more youth players to choose from in their territory. This is likely why those rules are in place. The breakdowns are on a metro size, not ownership money basis.

    Kansas City has territorial rights over Oklahoma, to answer a previous question. They also have Nebraska in fact, Ives, so only the Wizards will be setting up shop in Omaha if anyone is.


  • nicholas skyles

    Thanks for those who reponsed to my questions.

    A couple thoughts:
    While big market clubs have a wider reach to more players, how important is it, really? I mean, they ultimately will only sign a handful, if any.

    how does this compare, to say, England? it seems that the way MLS handles rights is sketchy at best and would be the biggest reason to have to limit the youth systems in the way they are doing. Do we handle rights to youth players drastically differently than in other leagues?

    I’m a little concerned (no offense to those in the midwest, I’m from Missouri though I’m in New York now) that too many steps taken to ‘ensure parity’ might do more to keep the MLS too vanilla rather than anything else.

    I’ve always rooted small market until my interest in soccer (which coincided with my move to New York) but isn’t it in the best interest of the league to let teams do anything in their power to build the best clubs? even if that results in evil empires in NY and LA? I love to root against the Yankees or the Lakers, but I can also understand that success in our major markets will ensure the success of our national league.


  • Haig

    “Once again DC United proves to have the superior set up.”

    How’s that?

    Once again DC fans prove themselves to be the most boundlessly conceited and self-deluded fans alive.


  • Joamiq


    Though I am a Red Bull fan, I don’t think we should be allowed to build unchecked. That kind of thinking destroyed the NASL. Honestly, given how much MLS has grown and how stable it is now, I’m perplexed as to why people want to let the chains off so badly. Yes, more rules means more chances for the league to flub things up and enforce rules selectively. But on the whole, I think Garber and his crew have done a pretty amazing job. Mistakes will be made, but the more we proceed with a measured approach, the better off US soccer will be in the long run.


  • David Martinez

    Will Conway be the answer?

    We shall all know. As long as he sheds his horrible characteristic of having stone hands, and being a playoff choker, I will be happy.

    Unfortunately, he will be under scrutiny all season until that happens. I hope its the right horse to bet on is all . . .


  • Paul Lorinczi

    Our club in Indianapolis has already started talking to a couple of teams. One to the north of us and one to the east of us. You can guess who they are.

    We also signed a partnership deal with Glasgow Celtic. More to come on that relationship in the next 30 days.


  • AJ

    Any word on whether or not the Revs have claimed Wake Forrest as their out-of-market youth program?

    Oh yeah…we probably won’t ever have one.


  • Matt

    I rarely have had much good to say about Garber recently. I think his sudden urge to allow expansion franchises without stadiums (Salt Lake, Seattle, San Jose) is ill-advised, his addition of adding more foreign spots is unnecessary, and his make such spots tradable is idiodic.

    But increasing the development clubs around the country actually creates value rather than buying over the hill foreigners as we will likely to be doing in the next couple of years.


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