This past week FC Dallas signed their fifth homegrown player, Jonathon Top, to a professional contract. Houston Dynamo are also set to sign two academy players soon. The new relaxed rules regarding homegrown players are fantastic, and it may make the Superdraft obsolete in the future. Since the homegrown rule change it has been championed by everyone, but there really hasn't been much questioning of teams agendas regarding their homegrown talent.
Obviously, the upsides are plentiful in the structure of MLS and it's bringing MLS slightly more in-line with the soccer thinking in Europe. But are these kids ready? It's great to bring a 17, 18, 19- year old kid into a professional environment, and this will do much more for their long term career than college soccer. However, are these players good enough to play with professionals or are they just there to make up the numbers and play in the reserves for lower wages. Not every 17 and 18 year old can play professionally, it takes something special. They're not all Jozy Altidores, and even he didn't play regularly in the beginning for New York. Freddy Adu, though talented, really wasn't as special a player on the pitch with older professionals. The great thing, however, is we've seen Andy Najar, Juan Agudelo and Bill Hamid all look the part. Now it's time to see if they can do it over a prolonged period of time and not just over a season in Najar's case, or less in Agudelo and Hamid's instance.
With the new rules homegrown players can make up roster spots and receive less money enabling the club to bring in more expensive players from abroad. In theory that doesn't sound too bad, but if the young players aren't ready for the professional game it could be deterimental to their careers. Not to mention the cut-throat MLS environment that allows a player to be cut at the drop of a hat, or to be paid peanuts.
I love the idea of young Americans getting a chance to play the game as a professional and I love to see MLS/US soccer become more in-line with the game in Europe and South America. It's a shame teams such as San Jose, New England and Chivas USA haven't gotten on board with the academy idea (if they have it's news to me) to develop their own talent. If there are millions of kids playing soccer as US Soccer likes to claim, then there is plenty of talent to field academies in every state. Even you North Dakota.
I am cynical, however, I know a good thing in MLS can't last. If MLS teams start to thrive with homegrown players I can see MLS entering academy players into the Superdraft as they've made it clear they do not want to get rid of it. Though, even with academies there will still be players who slip through the cracks and won't become physically or technically developed until college. But until a new rule is implemented I hope we a lot of fresh young talent in MLS we may not have seen without the academies.