Those of you who interested in the progress, or lack of progress, being made by Major League Soccer’s player development initiatives should read my most recent ESPN.com piece, which focuses on the program.
If you haven’t been keeping track, this year was the first year MLS teams have been eligible to start signing players straight from their academies. Heading into this week we still hadn’t had an MLS team sign a player straight from the academy. Several MLS officials have pointed to the rules currently in place as reasons why we haven’t seen signings, but looming changes, coupled with some impressive prospects, should lead to a few signings from this day forward. In other words, the program should start producing soon.
In working on this piece I was able to clarify some rules regarding the signing of academy players that should help to shed some light on things.
Teams can sign academy graduates through three mechanisms. They can sign them to a Generation adidas contract, which is a three-year deal. Teams can only have one such player on their rosters at any one time. So does that mean a team is locked in for the full three years? Not necessarily. If the player graduates from Generation adidas, meaning if they wind up playing significant minutes and turning into an MLS regular in the first or second year, that can cut short their Generation adidas status, thus allowing a team to sign another player through the same mechanism.
Academy Players can, in fact, be signed directly to the senior roster. The only issue with that rule, and the reason you won’t be seeing teams use it, is because a player signed through that route won’t be roster-protected, meaning their salary counts against the team salary cap.
Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio isn’t the only person preaching patience with regard to pulling the trigger on the Generation adidas mechanism. Houston chief operation officer Chris Canetti and D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper both stated that their teams have yet to find the right player and want to be sure that the first academy signing is a quality prospect capable of handling the pressure of the title.
I should have some more developments on this topic for next week. For now, give my story a read and share your thoughts on it, and this subject, in the comments section below.