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No deal for Matt Kassel: A Closer Look


Matt Kassel won’t be showing up in any MLS box scores this season. He won’t be making history as the first youth academy product to play for a senior MLS team (at least not yet). He won’t show up on the field like some American version of Bojan Krkic, a teenager ready to dominate a professional league.

Ultimately, the Red Bulls made a decision of prudence, a decision that won’t sit well with fans already exasperated by a relatively uneventful off-season on the player acquisition front. Perhaps that desperate feeling led some fans to see Kassel as a ray of hope, a young prospect who could give them something to root for in a season some see shaping up to be another in a long line of disappointments.

Lost in all that is the reality that Kassel isn’t ready for MLS right now, and while adding him to the club would have been good for him and the Red Bulls, it just wasn’t a practical move to make right now.

Why? It boils down to the fact that the Red Bulls had two ways to add Kassel to its roster. Either by signing him to a senior contract and including him on the 18-man roster, or by recommending him for a Generation adidas contract, which would mean more money for Kassel and roster exemption status the Red Bulls coveted. (There was a third option, which was signing Kassel to a developmental roster spot, but Kassel was never going to accept a developmental contract and rejected that offer.)

The senior roster spot wasn’t an option, not when Kassel isn’t ready for the MLS game and not when head coach Juan Carlos Osorio will already have senior roster cuts to make to clear room for potential signings in the coming days and months. The Generation adidas contract was an option, but going that route would have meant not being able to use that mechanism on another academy player for three years.

Think about that one for a second. The Red Bulls have just recently committed considerable resources to upgrading the youth academy, including make it free for all age groups in an effort to attract the best players from the talent-rich New York and New Jersey area. A year or two from now a player like Jonny Exantus or Walter Hines could emerge as a young player capable of making an immediate impact in Major League Soccer and the team wouldn’t have that mechanism available to sign them.

There is also the fact that the club has been unable to see Kassel train with the first team because of a lingering hamstring injury that has limited him for most of the past few weeks. Yes, Kassel did look impressive playing with free agent trialists in February, but that hardly makes him ready for the rigors of life in the midfields of MLS.

Do the Red Bulls risk the chance of losing Kassel in the long term? That is possible, but Kassel’s actions are of a player who is interested in maintaining a relationship with the club that has helped develop him the past few years. He is still attending training sessions and still plans to attend training until it is time for him to head to the University of Maryland (sources have told SBI that Kassel does plan to play for Maryland in the fall).

That means he will still get the benefits of training in a professional environment, but will also get to experience college life and college soccer. Considering the reserve system in MLS is far from where it needs to be, playing a full season in the ACC for one of the nation’s top programs isn’t exactly a bad place to develop.

Now, if Kassel wins the Hermann Award, leads the Terps to a national title, and winds up with European offers he can’t resist, then the Red Bulls could wind up losing him to Europe. This is true, but it could also be true for a player in 2009 who the club can’t sign because it committed to Kassel.

I also wouldn’t rule out Kassel and the Red Bulls going back to the bargaining table before Kassel has to head to college in the fall. Kassel still hasn’t a real chance to impress Osorio and he could still wind up showing the Red Bulls coach something that makes him say, "I don’t want to wait, let’s sign him now."

If that doesn’t happen it won’t be the end of the world, or the end of the season for that matter.

For an opposing view to this situation, check out this piece on MetroFanatic.


  1. Heard that when the Red Metros found out that Kassel has never been under contract to the Fire, never been property of the Fire, and has never had his rights possessed by the Fire….

    They decided they didnt want him.

  2. Northzax- in ives’ other post, the kid mentions how he’s planning on weighing his options after a year of college… meaning he’s not exactly planning on staying a whole 4 yrs for a degree… he’s merely using it as a vessel to develope his skills… the way everyone is holding this kid, id be surprised if he wasnt picked up this winter, either by europe or RBNJ…

  3. do GenAd deals still come with tuition on the back end for washouts? That’s another reason they used to be valuble to young players. Assuming Kassel has a full ride to college park, that’s about ninety grand over four years, with a degree thrown in. Would you turn that down for twenty grand?

  4. Anyone know anything more about Jonny Exantus and Walter Hines? I’d never heard of these kids and outside of knowing that they are Haitian and Costa Rican respectively I’m clueless. Are these kids almost ready to make the jump too?

  5. onionsack- hmm, i was unaware that the league paid the salaries… always thought the cap was set for the sake of the owners investing in the teams… im assuming everything else is picked up by the team/owner/investors then (maintainance, workers, etc…)???

    how smart would it be to allow the DEV contracts to be slid an additional 30k, as from a financial standpoint?? i have always said id like to see the min. pay increased before we allow teams to drop more $$ on other players, but if each team paid their DEV an additional 30k per DEV, how would that effect the stability

  6. Well since the teams fall under the single entity umbrella, the thing most important is league health and profitablity not necessarly team profitability.

    MLS pays all the salaries, if clubs indiviudaly are running in the red, it most likely has to do with local constrainst like stadium rental, poor revenue streams, or general poor management.

    Anything salary related is league wide, and as such is observed from a league wide profitability. The league, especially when combined with its marketing arm SUM, have done quite well for themsleves over the past couple seasons.

  7. Onionsack- league may be but the teams?? if i recall someone has said only 2 teams were profitable….

    if the league covered the expense then im sure it would be fine, but what are the odds of that happening??

  8. Juke Box Hero- with teams already not profitable, how could the league possibly convince the bulk of most teams that dropping more $$ into their teams would provide a better turn out?? while it seems the likely idea “spend money to make money”, if we drop too much $$ into the league we’ll likely go bankrupt before profitable…

    and while teams with owners like AEG and Redbull may enjoy it as their pockets are endless, teams like NE would suffer from it… some owners dont even spend their entire cap as is, let alone drop more $$ into the team… its too early to be thinking it and too early to do it

  9. jgildea- the number of college students getting national team attention is growing slimmer and slimmer by the minute… just look at the U23 olympic qualifier… NO college players on the roster… of course thats not saying that some players didnt go to college, but all the players are currently pros….

    in fact how many of the U20’s were in college this past summer?? i know they had some college kids on the rosters, but how many of them actually got starts??

  10. Does anyone else remember when Czar Ivan Gazidis promised that minimum wage players would *not* be “churned” through the league?

  11. I respect what you are saying Onionsack.

    I am just saying that since it has only been around for one year and has produced no players I am not sure why everyone is so sure that the coaching is superior. They can still get national team attention/training even in college.

    Ok, sorry to beat this into the ground.

  12. I agree with most of what that article says. Except that it concentrates a little too much on Red Bull/Metro inability to succeed within the system & not enough on the flaws of the system itself.

    Brett – I get the diff between a Gen Ad deal & a developmental one, particularly the fact that Adidas, not MLS, pays the Gen Ad kid’s salary. But the developmental salary is so paltry by comparison that it needs adjustment post-haste. How about a DP-like rule whereby a team (on it’s own coin) is allowed to supplement the income of a developmental player as an inducement to signing him. If Red Bull were allowed to offer Kassel an extra $30K on top of the $12K or 15K$ dev salary paid by MLS, he might (probably would?) have signed.

    I understand the logic of Red Bull’s decision. I don’t get why MLS has a system in place that forces such decisions.

  13. jgildea,

    This is the first year MLS has allowed academy players to sign. Maybe that is why we can’t name to many.

    You can look to the US academy in Florida, they have a decent success rate, much higher than NCAA.

  14. I get what he was saying. He also said that you cannot list a few examples of players from college and use that as a basis. You can’t name any at all that Acadamy players are more successful so I do not see how that supports that arguement.

    I think it will be better in the next ten years, but right now it is entirely unproven and Kassel lives right now.

  15. Why can’t he sign one of those $13,000 development contracts?

    My guess is he wouldn’t take it. A college scholarship is worth more, and in the worst case, he will be offered the same deal after college.

    The biggest problem that MLS faces is that most middle class kids rationally choose to go to college rather than work for peanuts. In Europe, Universities don’t subsidize students because they can play football. A youth/developmental contract is usually a smart choice.

    The american university system is yet another obstacle that MLS faces that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

  16. Okay, I get it now; what he was offered was only a developmental contract. Not meant as an insult, I’m sure, but can understand if it was taken that way.

  17. jgildea- thats b/c the youth academies for the mls teams are relatively new, where as college soccer has been around forever… that is a farce comparison

    onionsack’s point is that the NCAA is no longer the top pool for developing youth… while more youth will be allowed into college sports, expect to see a glutton of youth in the MLS being raised through their team’s youth system in the next decade or two…

  18. @alex – You have to remember that the RBNY youth development system is only two years old and is still trying to figure out what works best within the MLS rules. There’s no way we’ll be comparable to EPLs decades of experience in that short of a time.

    I’m hoping the case is that Osario wants to wait for the summer to get a look at him healthy and on top of his game and re-evaluating him then. With the injury, Osario hasn’t had much of a chance to see him play yet. If I were him I’d wait till I could get a good look at him too.

  19. Juke Box Hero-

    “Each club should have the ability to sign a couple of guys every year from their youth ranks into the professional ranks. ”

    and they can, they just have to open up the spots for them…

    per ives: “according to MLS rules, the Red Bulls can sign only one homegrown player using a Generation Adidas deal every three years, so essentially teams can only have one homegrown generation adidas player at any one time. Teams can still sign youth players to senior contracts.”

  20. its not that i didnt believe you. In fact, Im coming from the same place. I too played at a nationally ranked program from 97-2000. The point I was making is that there are certain programs who have a track record of producing pro talent. To say its a small percentage is correct because realistically only about 10 percent, maybe less, of those ACC roster go pro. Not to mention those who go overseas without even trying MLS. Thats all I was saying

  21. I’m a bit confused, as it was my clear understanding that Kassell was offered a contract. Ives, your article makes it sound like he wasn’t, and I don’t think that’s accurate. Are you saying JCO rescinded their offer to Kassel, so that his only option right now is the Terps or staying amateur?

    Onionsack is absolutely correct that NCAA regulations are such that Kassel would be better off staying here training with the academy in terms of developing as a player. It is with his development as a total person, though, that he might well benefit from the college experience.

  22. How many acadamy players have you seen make it in MLS?

    For that matter how many developmental players have ‘made it’. Most teams need to have guest players just to fill out the roster!

    Far more MLS players came from College.

  23. Wait until MLS gives NYC a team and sets them up for a nice easy start. Enjoy your first year in your new stadium because you will be eclipsed by 2010 by a New York team that actually plays in New York.

  24. Doug,

    You cant just cite one or two players from a program as conclusive proof they can develop talent. The NCAA is traditionally the only avenue for kids to get to the MLS here, thus a lot of players that are too good for college end up there, and standout and are drafted.

    Look at the entire rosters from Maryland, UCLA, etc over the past 5 years and see how many are in MLS or beyond today…its a really small percentage. There is a reason for that.

    The reserves at RB would roll the ACC, fact. There are dozens of players on every ACC side that will never see pro ball, it drags down the quality level. Add on top of that the restrictive training rules imposed by the NCAA and you end up with more regression of potential than realization of potential. If you don’t believe me, fine, but i have seen it all first hand as a member of a nationally ranked program in the early 2000’s. Nothing has changed since then man.

  25. “MLS will not be successful in the New York area. Without New York area success, MLS is insignificant.”

    They’re just waiting for the 2nd New York team to be successful.

  26. I think I would disagree a little bit Onionsack. Many colleges do not compare to the day in day out pro schedule. However, there are certain programs (most in the ACC, UVA, UMD, WF, UNC, Duke) whose coaches have proven time and time again that they can prepare college athletes for the pro game. Coaches like Sasho Cirovski dont get top level recruits without proving that he has a track record of getting quality college players and making them quality professionals Just look at Maurice Edu(former terp), Shalrie Joseph (former RedStorm), Ben Olsen (former Cavalier), Seth Stammler (former terp). I think the argument is there are only a handful of schools that can truly prepare a player for the pro game and Kassel just happens to be going to one of them in the fall. One could argue that playing a full ACC season schedule is just as tough as playing as a RedBull reserve for 8 months with a handful of first team chances thrown in. Interested to hear everyones thoughts on this. Thanks

  27. I agree with kpugs on this. Now if Dev salaries were at a level where would could easily sign academy players it would be different story. I would love to see the Dev roster used for actual developments, but under the current structure this is impossible. A GenAd spot is just to valuable to take a flyer on.

    And I agree that professional training is superior to even being in a top college program. At the same time, the MLS Reserve league is not at the point where there is enough live game experience at this point.

    MLS needs to either give all academy players developmental status for x amount of years, increase the amount of senior roster sports, or raise the Dev salaries. We all know the latter isn’t happening until the new CBA is in place.

  28. How many MLS teams are convinced that the league has it in for them specifically? Why in god’s name would they not want this country’s biggest market to be successful? And the help they have heaped on LA has made them a joke with a clown as a GM. Thanks but no thanks. Look to the Rev’s drafting and Houston’s stability for your growth and stop it with the persecution complex.

  29. I agree that MLS is behind the curve on shepherding top youth academy prospects into the professional ranks. It’s silly. The league seems so tangled up by designations like Gen Ad, Senior Roster, Developmental Player, etc. etc. that it is missing the point. Each club should have the ability to sign a couple of guys every year from their youth ranks into the professional ranks. Period. It would cost very little and have a huge benefit on player development. Garber has proven very pro-active over time, I hope he sees the forest for the trees on this one sooner rather than later.

  30. There are all kinds of things that are wrong with this league, but this isn’t a situation to freak out about it.

    At this moment in time he is not worth a roster spot, that’s just the way it is. The risk of him playing well in college and going to Europe is there, sure. But it’s the lesser of two evils, the other being him taking up a senior roster spot (or 3 years of an adidas contract) and not being good enough to play anything more than garbage minutes at this point in time.

  31. Once again, MLS is determined to prevent the New York area from having a successful soccer team. When will MLS finally get over themselves and allow RBNY the same advantages and rule exemptions enjoyed by the Galaxy and DCU? Until MLS removes the roadblocks they have placed in the way of our team’s success — such as “discovery claims”, allocation lists and arcane generation adidas rules that prevent academy signings — MLS will not be successful in the New York area. Without New York area success, MLS is insignificant.

  32. Who cares about the NCAA? Its a development graveyard because of the silly rules they have. I speak from experiance people. The level of training day in and day out Kassel could get at RB is 10x better than anything he could get in college. FACT.

  33. I have to agree with Onionsack. It’s obvious we are light years behind European development with our youth players. Maybe we’ll get lucky and DeGrandpre’s replacement will be of the European mindset with development.

  34. …a bird in hand…..

    I would have put him on GA.

    If they like Exantus, or anyone else so much they’ll just have to sign them tostandard DEV deals (which hopefully in the next 3 years will be worth considerably more) or give them a senior contract. Many first year guys out of college picked in the first couple of rounds (and any that don’t qualify for GA through nationaility) get senior deals anyways. Toronto’s first three picks this year all got senior contracts (James, Phelan and Edwards).

  35. If you can only sign an academy player to a GenAd deal every 3 years, wouldn’t it make sense to start the clock sooner rather than later? This presumes that Kassel is a prospect worth signing but the reports have been promising.

  36. Anyone harping on him being ready to be a starter now, compeletly misses the entire point of a development tier and the purposes and effects of establishing a youth pipeline.

    You have to turn the dev roster of scrubs into a roster of academy players that can be training further into the domestic backbone of the squad, over time. You cant expect it overnight, it has to start now and be a steady stream after a few years.

  37. What do these players who seem to be in no man’s land (like Kassel and Marmol) do? Are they being paid anything? Do they train everyday, like everyone else? Do they have full access to the teams training/medical staff? Do the teams have liability if one of these players are injured in training? I don’t understand how a player can just wait for months for a contract that may or may not come. I guess they have no other options.

  38. To be honest, you make it sound logical Ives, but there are some things that still do not sound right. So, what they are saying is that they won’t give up a GA contract because who knows what the future holds for other academy players? Well based upon that concept, they probably will never release this contract because there always could be someone better but the fact of the matter is, Kassel has been known hands down to be the best academy player for awhile. He was player of the year with them for two years in a row while playing up. Not only does he have the talent but the mental attitude and maturity as well.(No other player has come close to this before). My only hope that Kassel is not hurt by the game playing that has been done with his mind. While the RedBulls are looking for someone better, I hope that Kassel too finds something better. Once again…the loss of a big opportunity not only for Kassel but the club as well. If they had any marketing sense, they might have realized they were single-handedly given a gold mine and blew it!

  39. I can’t understand why we don’t give Kassel a Generation Adidas contract. The argument “that route would have meant not being able to use that mechanism on another academy player for three years.” doesn’t hold up. What if there are no other players in the next three years that are worthy of a GA contract? So we miss out on Kassel and have nothing to show for it.

    As a RB fan it just gets worse and worse. You want your organization to be leaders, trailblazers, a team that takes chances. Let’s be honest, we are desperate for as an organization for talent. Having Matt training everyday does many things:

    1. Inspires other youths to come up through our program,

    2. Motivates the pros to work harder as youth talent is nipping at heir heels

    3. Gets Matt in a pro environment ASAP

    4. Sends a statement to fans “we will do anything to turn this team around”

    5. Limits the possibility that he stars at Maryland and then soon heads off to Europe

    This is just too bad all around…

  40. You helped take a lot of my disappointment away Ives. You make very valid points, thanks for offering your take/insight.

  41. My understanding is the reason that a club can only use one Gen-Ad slot every 3 years is so that you only use it on players who deserve to be on the senior roster. And what Ives is saying is that at this point, JCO doesn’t think Kassel is a senior roster player.

    I know, I know, officially Gen-Ad players don’t count on the senior roster. But JCO is basically saying that he thinks he’ll have 18 players better than Kassel (maybe not right now but soon). Agree or disagree with that thinking if you will. Now if you think he’s not one of the 18 best, unless you think he’s going to be something special in 2-3 years, than you don’t use the Gen Ad spot on him.

    All the GMs/TDs with good academy/reserve/youth programs pretty much said that they didn’t expect to see ANY player signed to a club until maybe mid-summer. Kassel is on track for possibly that option. As to what happens if he doesn’t sign in 2008? Well, the future of the club is not tied to one or two youth prospects. It’s a nice story if Kassel signs with the club. But then Alecko Eskandarian used to practice all the time with the MetroStars so who your youth ties were with and who you practiced with ultimately means squat. If the club did a good job developing Kassel–ie: he’s not a fluke–then there will be more and better players coming down the pipeline.

  42. Juke Box, according to MLS rules, the Red Bulls can sign only one homegrown player using a Generation Adidas deal every three years, so essentially teams can only have one homegrown generation adidas player at any one time. Teams can still sign youth players to senior contracts.

    In other words, the idea that teams are suddenly going to have multiple youth academy players pouring onto rosters isn’t happening any time soon. One or two at the most to start with.

  43. Ives,

    Do I understand your comments correctly that MLS teams can only offer one GenAd contract to their academy players every three years?

    If so, that’s just crazy. How does that reward teams for player development or encourage them to really commit more resources to youth development.

    Secondly, now that Kassell is going to college, if he signs a GA deal – or plays all four years of college soccer – does he go into the draft or does RedBull retain his rights?

    It seems that the clubs, at least some of themm are ahead of the league in terms of the player developemnt issues and the league’s policies and rules haven’t kept pace and are now hurting the teams and American player development.

  44. Ives – the line that jumps off the page is “not being able to use that mechanism on another academy player for three years.” I must have missed something. Can you explain more clearly? MLS teams can only sign one academy player every 3 years?! What’s the point of investing all that money into an academy then? Can you clarify?


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