Top Stories

MLS teams rattle off flurry of homegrown player signings

Victor Pineda (

Photo by


Major League Soccer is starting to see more and more benefits from its teams academy programs. While D.C. United's Andy Najar and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Tristan Bowen play key roles for their teams, other MLS squads are joining the race to bring up homegrown talent.

The Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids both signed their first homegrown players this week, with the Fire unveiling midfielder Victor Pineda (pictured) today and the Rapids introducing midfielder Davy Armstrong on Monday.

D.C. United, the first team to have two academy players play for the first team, continued to be among the league's leader in developing talent after adding U.S. Under-20 midfielder Conor Shanosky to the squad on Monday. Shanosky joins fellow academy products Najar and goalkeeper Bill Hamid on the D.C. roster.

A long-time U.S. youth national team prospect, Pineda has been recently called up by the U.S. Under-18 national team. Shanosky impressed on the recent Under-20 national team that won the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland.

None of the signings are eligible to play in MLS in 2010, but can train with their clubs and become eligible in 2011.

This current wave of signings come two weeks after FC Dallas signed three academy products to professional contracts. Ruben Luna, Victor Ulloa and Moises Fernandez joined Bryan Leyva on the team's books, making FC Dallas the first team to have four homegrown players sign professional contracts.

The recent flurry of academy player signings is sure to put pressure on teams throughout MLS to identify and develop talent as quickly as teams such as D.C., FC Dallas, Chicago and the New York Red Bulls.

While it won't get as much publicity as the influx of Designated Players coming into MLS, the wave of homegrown player signings as arguably just as important a sign for a growing league that desperately needs to grow its talent pool.

What do you think of this news? Eager to see more youngsters making impacts like Najar and Bowen? Hoping your team brings up academy players soon?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I hope I was not misunderstood…….

    I think the pro/releg should be in the minor leagues only. It would actually be a novelty that would appease the pro/releg activists of all soccer blog but still keep in tact the integrity of the top flight…… Pro/Releg in the minor leagues only would all for some drama and intrigue for the minor leagues…….. Either way MLS is def on the right path

    Steps that need to happen in order for MLS to be a top league in the world

    -MLS needs to begin to show well in CONCACAF champions league
    -MLS teams need to win CONCACAF Champions League
    -MLS needs to be invited to copa libertadores
    -CONCACAF needs to expand supa liga into CONCACAFs version of the europa league
    I cant think of anymore right now
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  2. I never understand why people think soccer in American needs promotion/relegation. In order for the sport and league to succeed in this country it just needs to be more popular. I actually see promo/relegation hurting the leauge more than it helps it.

    I do agree the MLS needs a reserve/minor league ala the MLB.

  3. You have to remember another thing about Religation….It forces owners to spend money on quality players, coaches, etc…in order to Maintain the revenue share from TV deals, etc… which are Higher for Top tier leagues (EPL) than for lower Tier leagues (Eng. Premier). Reinforces the addage that you have to spend money to make money, as well as insuring that fans are receiving the best possible commitment to win from the clubs and owners.

    Thats why I wish US sports had promotion/religation in their sports.

  4. Charlie Davies, Clint Dempsey, Bornstein, Klejstan, and many others did go to college. Bradley, Donavon and others did not, at least partly because at 17 or so they were already recognized as talented athletes, Neither set of examples proves anything. One size fits all will not work in a country where the players have freedom of choice. But it is correct that, if a player is committed to being a professional soccer player first and to hell with what happens if he fails to pan out as a pro, the best option is to play more than the present college soccer rules allow. Most college soccer coaches would even agree with that.

  5. I read Moneyball and I think you’re misapplying the data. In baseball in HS, competition is usually very limited (in terms of coaching, travel and especially number of games you play in a season–especially for HS teams in places that get snow). In college baseball, seasons are typically longer and you get to play more and programs to support the team (number of coaches and support staff) is usually greater than that of a comparable HS team.

    Not so with soccer in the US. Show me a really good 17 y.o. soccer player in the US and I’ll show you someone who’s on a good select team that probably brings in an outside coach and another coach several times a month to work on just skills, attends camps regularly, might be part of a pro academy, maybe is part of the USSF program and might play as many as 80-100 games a year. And if you go to college, a lot of that drops off. Your abiity to train year-round as a collegian disappears, the number of games you play goes down and in some cases the quality of the coaching goes down.

    Colleges, contrary to a lot of popular opinion, have shown that they can continue to produce players who go on to successful pro careers (including Europe–Jay DeMerit anyone?). But to argue that Moneyball establishes that going with HS talent is a mistake is to misread the book. Moneyball argues that the pro baseball fascination with HS pitchers (not all players, just pitchers) is misplaced b/c it’s based solely on potential, not on measurable data. And HS pitchers are people who are, realistically, only been pitching seriously at a meaningful level for about 4 years max. That tells you almost nothing about their ability to perform b/c the hitters they’re pitching to aren’t just weaker than college or pro hitters, but it’s an entirely different game at that level. Not so with youth soccer (ie: anything under college). Additionally, talk to a serious orthopedic specialist and they’ll tell you that every single pitcher in the major leagues has a rotator cuff that looks like a torn noodle–even the healthy ones. The human arm wasn’t designed to throw baseballs. So to go with a HS pitcher is to pick someone not only on potential but also someone who hasn’t shown that their arm will last even 2 seasons at a professional (ie: class A ball, let alone major leagues). There is no such similar concern with you youth soccer players. 17 y.o.’s may grow or stop growing. But you don’t wonder “is his foot going to explode if he tries to hit a corner?”

    FWIW, as I mentioned that college can still produce players who contribute professional (I think that’s b/c players mature emotionally and physically at all levels so a one-size fits all mentality of everyone goes to a youth academy to be a pro ala Europe is therefore going to eliminate some players who would be good pros), here’s the reality:
    –the best US field player now and of all time is Landon Donovan. Academy player (US-17 academy than Bayer Leverkusen youth and reserves). Not a day of college soccer.
    –probably the only “lock” at forward for the US right now is Jozy Altidore. Not a day of college soccer, only USSF Bradenton academy and than MLS play.
    –Michael Bradley–probably the best US 2-way midfielder at present and the only guaranteed starter in central midfield. Not a day of college soccer, did select soccer, and then went to MLS at a very tender age.

    From where I stand, it looks to me like college soccer has a lot of catching up to do to produce players right now of the quality of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan. And that doesn’t even count Tim Howard (who never played college soccer).

  6. I’ll agree with this point. Too many games where the stress is only on winning detracts from the overall improvement of players.

  7. Well, to the first point, everything has a finite talent base, because people aren’t infinite. I’m not sure where you are getting the statistics for the claim that the amount of soccer players is growing faster than the US population growth, but the I think you’re missing the point I was trying to make. The MLS might not be able to afford a doubling of the salary cap; to be a viable entity, they eventually have to make money, are they there? Like I said, I don’t know, but we have all seen the results of throwing around imaginary money.

  8. Ives,

    Is the influx of academy players a testament to the increasing talent level American trained players, or is it a reaction to the increased salaries that proffesionals in the league now get due to the c.b.a (a way of keeping salary costs down while justifying the expense of academies), or do the two work hand in hand?

  9. In the past expansion draft, they were exempt from protection–they’re automatically protected. I assume those rules won’t change.

  10. You need to see Andy Najar play. He started out as a right back but has played a-mid, outside mid and forward this year. I think the only reason he’s not a forward now is that (a) putting a 17 y.o. rookie at forward is a real tough transition, especially on a team when you’d get poor service and (b) he’s willing to track back and defend so you probably want to play him for now at a position where he has more space and can do a 2-way game. But Najar is DCU’s best attacking option and has the best ability to create his own chance. Look at the goal he scored at the end of the match against FCD in the USOC match–in a feeble offensive season by the team, that might be the goal of the year, just superb individual offensive skill.

  11. I’ll also add this:
    –all of these kids (except maybe an immigrant like Najar) already had at least 5 years and maybe 8 of travel/select soccer before they come to the academy.
    –what DCU has started doing (and Payne is a big proponent) of this is LESS games at the academy level. What he has argued (and this probably comes from the Ajax system) is that kids play too many soccer games and in an average game, even the top players get too few touches. What American soccer players need is LESS actually soccer and more practice and training (where there are more touches, more repitition, more skill building).

  12. But that’s the thing–expansion in something like baseball (which has a relatively finite talent base) does dilute talent. But with soccer in the US, every year our population grows, the number of soccer players grows faster than the rate of our population growth, the number of immigrants and second generation players grows even further, the number of and depth of talent in HS grows more, the quality in college grows more. It’s not a finite pool but one that is growing in numbers and quality. And that doesn’t even consider the ability to tap into talent outside the US in what is the world’s game. Despite adding–4 or is it 5 expansion teams in 4 years, I think MLS teams have better depth now than they did 4 years ago. I also think the quality of play in MLS is higher now than it was 4 years ago. I could be wrong but that’s my opinion. It’s not that expansion made it better, it’s that the quality and size of the domestic pool keeps expanding and the expansion of the salary cap and DP exemptions allows for teams to expand the pool of players OUTSIDE the US that they go for.

  13. Totally agree that Najar, Hamid and Shanosky were signed via the homegrown player designation. Now Graye and Quinn may not even be on the team next year (though with 17 starts, Graye actually has a decent rookie season for an outside back). But my understanding is that even though they were DCU academy graduates, the team was not able to use a homegrown player designation on them because it doesn’t apply to everyone within a team’s academy, only players from a certain date forward (and Graye and Quinn predate that). I could be wrong–but that’s my understanding. That’s not to say that they’re on par in terms of potential with Najar or Hamid, only that if the team could have used a homegrown player designation on Quinn and Graye, my understanding is that they would have–but that they weren’t eligible for this.

    In any case, I think the real lesson is that the teams that are generating players who make the senior rosters, that’s a “good thing” (as Martha Stewart would say).

  14. KEEP EM COMING. This is the most important aspect to the long term success of MLS. Short term success: DP’s. Long term success: Academy Products.

  15. DCU Academy starts at U16 (mostly 14-15 year olds) although they also offer U15 training and Academy Camps for younger ages. They have an excellent program and they also benefit from soccer crazed Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs that have good quality programs developing younger age players. Chicago Fire Academy I believe starts much earlier, although their academy program is quite new. European academies have different starting ages, some earlier -others later. Barcelona, for example, starts with 7-8 years olds. Many English academies do the same. It is not always a good thing for the kids to start very early. Certainly, the kids would get great coaching, but most kids never develop into professional players and are crushed when the academy cuts them (which usually happens around the time when they reach 14 when academies start to award 1-2 year youth contracts). Of course, it is hard to tell who would become a great player around the age of 14 (if you want an extreme example, think of Michael Jordan not making his high school basketball team). When cut by an academy, most kids just give up on soccer despite having talent – a few would continue and some of them would eventually become professional players. The system could be cruel to kids, but this is how the system works.

  16. this seems like a great way of improving your team without gambling cap space.

    Will these players automatically be safe from the Expansion draft, or do teams have to protect them like any other player?

  17. Sometimes I wonder if Ives shuffles these annoying posts down just to heckle them. I hope he does because that would be hilarious. If not, then it still laugh at their failed moment. It’s like the slow clap that doesn’t catch on with the rest of the crowed.

  18. But there is something to play for. The fact is, with the MLS salary cap, most teams will be at least fighting to make the playoffs every season. Yes each year there will be a bottom couple of teams that will have no chance, but outside of those 2 or 3, the rest above them will still have a shot until close to the end.

    When this gets discussed, people seem forget that in European leagues with relegation and nothing close to spending parity, there are always a bunch of mid-table-ish teams who aren’t going to get relegated, and won’t be able to qualify for Europe (or promotion playoffs), who also end up just playing out the string with little to shoot for, especially in leagues without the max number of European slots.

    So with relegation, the bottom teams are fighting for something, while the middle teams aren’t, while in MLS the middle teams are fighting for something while the very bottom teams aren’t.

  19. Yeah, but parity makes for a nice counterpoint to relegation. There is always going to be some sort of salary cap, which will allow smaller market teams to compete. I don’t agree the “something to play for” argument. These are professional playing for a paycheck. It should be motivation enough for play for your job. It’s common for fans of smaller teams to actually embrace relegation so they can enjoy watching their team in competitive games.

  20. Fair point, but is the league is a comfortable enough financial position to double the salary cap? Still, I’d rather have teams getting deeper at this point than adding more paper thin teams.

  21. I notice that to, alot of midfielders are being developed but we still don’t have many young promising strikers hopefully as time goes by these academies start increasing the striker pool.

  22. i also think this would really promote development as a way around the cap thereby enhancing home grown talent. a potential catapult, as it were for the development of N.A. soccer.

  23. I completely agree!! If a team puts the dollars and effort into developing young players they should not be confined by how much they pay them as they get older and better. if you develop a star you should be able to compete with the rest of the world to retain them.

  24. I agree that the debate is silly, but people most likely want to debate over which team has the most productive academy rather than who has the best team. It is too early to evaluate the success of the academies. Let’s see how 17-19 year olds develop and revisit the issue when they are 23-25.

  25. mls needs a reserve league. even if it means playing against pdl and ussf d-2 teams (to keep costs down).

    why should the galaxy send reserves to new england when they can play hollywood hitmen and oc bluestar.

  26. The future and ultimately the strength of MLS lays in the hands of the Academy players. The more signed, the better. The kids are exposed to a professional environment and that’s never a bad thing. Academy players to me are more valuable, down the road, than the Designated Players. Don’t get me wring the DP’s are extremely important but realistically speaking these Academy players are a long time invest who are beginning their careers and not in the middle or end as opposed to most DP’s. it excites me MLS is pushing for the homegrown signings. It’s a smart move and will only benefit the league. now all they need now is to reinvented the Reserve League or as suggested develop a coop with the NASL.

  27. Good point. DCU’s woes aside, Najar would start for most of the MLS teams – he is regularly double-teamed by other teams when DCU plays. Hamid is already better than 80% of MLS goalkeepers.

  28. Young players will not get the same quality of coaching or competition in 2nd division. There’s also no guarantee that they would get playing time (think about Altidore loan to a team in the second division in Spain, where a coach gave him zero minutes of play time). Plus, practicing with the players from the first team could be invaluable for a young player. Don’t you think that a young player could benefit from learning from Schelotto or Beckham how to execute free kicks? There is a reason why teams in the top leagues have reserve teams.

  29. This analogy isn’t great. The premise of Moneyball was to take advantage of inefficient markets. In the MLB draft, HS baseball players were overvalued when compared to college players who had played against much better competition. MLS academy players are not unproven HS athletes; they have been training in a semi-professional environment (far superior to playing for a HS) and have risen to the top, mind you at a faster rate than they would’ve in college.

    And just b/c the status quo in baseball is to rely on the NCAA to develop talent, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way. It’s just the way it is. You are starting to see a few basketball players go pro overseas instead of going to college. Frankly, this is genius and long overdue. This trend is going to pick up in the next few years, just watch.

  30. Very very cool

    Anyone have any idea when most of these players are getting put into these academies by clubs? I mean, have they been there as long as academy players usually are in successful academies in other parts of the world? Just curious

  31. I’d also love to see a non-cap ability for teams to retain young talent through the years that they have developed and brought onto the first team so they can attempt to keep them long-term.

  32. Can anyone explain why some of these guys signed mid-season are immediately eligible and others have to wait until the following season? And some are eligible for CCL and USOC but not league matches, whats the deal?


Leave a Comment