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Jesse Marsch: Developing American talent “more vital than ever”

“In the current U.S. climate, I think that developing young American talent is more vital than ever.”

Jesse Marsch launched into what many have considered the Red Bull manifesto of recent years when asked about his responsibility towards developing young players in the wake of the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the team’s media day event on Tuesday.

While the optics could be used to argue that the club is defending their frugal ways in the face of a changing MLS landscape, the belief in player development from the Red Bulls is seen not just through the team’s diminishing wags, but through recent investments below the MLS level.

New York Red Bulls II has become a critical component in the path of academy players, and the Red Bulls are just beginning to reap the rewards of leaning into the system as players like Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, Alex Muyl, and Derrick Etienne take on larger roles within the first team.

“There are so many people committed to youth development,” said Marsch. “But if you apply it to how to get some of those grassroots movements into being big time players, it requires professional coaches willing and ready to play young players.”

Marsch has been able to talk the talk in recent years with data to prove that he means what he says. The Red Bulls have increased the total number of minutes homegrown players have played in each of their last three seasons, and the number is likely to continue to grow in 2018. While players like Adams and Davis have been regular starters since the latter half of 2017, Etienne appears to be on a similar ascension to more meaningful minutes in 2018, even after the team added a few high-profile offseason acquisitions.

The message is clear to those players in the academy and USL setup: There is a path to becoming a pro with the Red Bulls.

The question is, will other teams follow the Red Bulls’ lead?

It may not be entirely fair for Marsch to paint a picture of a barren landscape in MLS for young American players, as the number of homegrown minutes across the league has increased dramatically over the last decade, but the number of U.S. born players starting in MLS has fallen nearly 10% over the last four seasons.

Some of the changes can be chalked up to the increased funds available to teams through Targeted/General Allocation Money, but the landscape has changed for American players in other ways.

As MLS has grown, the spotlight has also grown on the league. Players look to the league as a larger stage to showcase their talents on the way to bigger leagues and bigger contracts. The notion that MLS can exist as a feeder league would allow for greater financial security, as investing in young foreign players would have a better return than older European players nearing the end of their careers.

However, to maximize return on investing in foreign players, the cost of acquisition has to maintain a lower barrier of entry, or else return on the investment carries a greater risk. By applying the same principles of player investment, teams could look towards their academies to find players that could produce similar margins on their returns with much lower overhead cost.

The Red Bull approach is still in its infancy, and the current crop of players have yet to move on from the club, so the strategy is only successful on the sporting side thus far. Once players begin to earn transfer fees, and the system begins to roll, other teams may begin to follow.

The pipeline of American talent and the bottom line of MLS clubs could well become reliant on the model and it could help power the U.S. player pool in the process.

“What we are doing here at Red Bull is very important to football in our country. It’s what we believe in. It’s who we are.”


  1. I’m a RBNY supporter and I’ve largely bought into the homegrown trend. I grew up a baseball fan and I always felt more invested in players who “came up through the system” (be it minor leagues in beisbol or academies in futbol).

    MLS is now allowing teams to keep 100% of transfer fees so that’s a good sign and will only make RBNY’s approach more attractive.

    The gap in the system is youth development. The ability of European clubs to cherry pick under 18s at no cost. We’ve all heard about the shortcomings of the US/MLS approach (namely lack of solidarity payments). That’s the next gap that must be filled for RBNY approach to become the norm.

  2. Probably the most disappointing thing about MLS is watching them buy random marginal talent from all over the globe and play them while also developing hardly any home grown talent. The lack of first team opportunities for young Americans has to be a massive concern. It significantly takes away from my enjoyment of the league. I want to see young exciting homegrown talent coming through… not watch some 27 year old from Saprissa or Estonia or something.

  3. Let’s see; Tim Ream, Matt Miazga, Jozy Altdore, are players the NY franchise have sold on successfully and in an earlier generation young players like Eddie Gaven and Mike Magee were signed as teenagers and moved on within MLS. That trend of identifying young players and signing them has accelerated sharply under Marsch.


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