Some 14 months after Major League Soccer announced initiatives that would allow MLS teams to sign players they develop through their own youth programs, three MLS teams are set to take advantage of those initiatives.
Chivas USA, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls have been identified by MLS as having players who qualify to be signed to the senior teams directly. This means that players who have spent at least two years in the youth programs of these teams can be signed directly to the senior roster without having to go through the MLS draft.
According to Alfonso Mondelo, MLS technical director of player programs, Chivas USA, DC United and the Red Bulls have had programs that meet the league’s current standards for at least two years(all three had established programs before the league’s official initiative in November of 2006), meaning that these teams can now sign as many as two players from their youth set-up.
Will these teams take advantage of this opportunity? The Red Bulls are still in the preliminary stages of considering the option, with highly-rated midfielder Matt Kassel regarded as the top prospect in the Red Bulls’ program and most likely to be signed.
"It is something we are looking into but we are more likely to seriously pursue that closer to the season," said Jeff Agoos, Red Bulls technical director. "We need to see if there are players who are ready to step into the first team and contribute.
"Obviously with Matt, you have a quality young player who we have seen closely and he’s certainly someone we will consider."
An added twist to the new player development initiative also allows qualified teams to select players from other qualified programs once those teams have signed two players in a calendar year. So if the Red Bulls signed Kassel and speedy forward Walter Hines to the senior team, Chivas USA and DC United could theoretically sign Haitian-born striker Johnny Exantus, another top prospect in the Red Bulls youth system, assuming DC hasn’t already signed two of its own players.
The catch there is that teams who do not have qualified programs cannot participate in the signing of other team’s youth players. Currently, eight MLS teams have set up player development programs that are now running. The only two teams that have yet to launch a program? The New England Revolution and Toronto FC, both of which are said to be in the planning stages of establishing programs in 2008. Both teams will essentially be a full two years behind the rest of the league in terms of being able to develop and sign their own talent.
Here is my Herald News article from last summer on the MLS player development initiative. And here is my piece on Kassell , who stands a good chance of becoming the first player signed under the new MLS player development guidelines.
UPDATE– Just to clarify a few things. The two-player limit on signing youth academy players is for the first three years of the program (two PER year). Also, there is compensation involved if one team signs another team’s academy player.
Lastly, going through the youth academy setup of an MLS does not, in any way, tie up a players rights. If a prospect decides he doesn’t want to sign with MLS he can go wherever he wants (ala Gabriel Ferrari).
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