[THIRTEEN FOR '13]The most important rule change that has positively impacted player development is the NCAA's modification of its rules about amateurs playing with pros. It means MLS clubs can bring in young players and get a look at them in practice -- and even games -- to see how they do with and against older and bigger pros. Amando Moreno, a 17-year-old forward from Morganville, N.J., got a chance to train with the New York Red Bulls' first team for two and a half months. It resulted in the high school senior being offered a homegrown contract that he signed.
Born in Perth Amboy, N.J., to a Mexican father and Salvadoran mother, Moreno had been in the Red Bulls' academy program for three years, but everything moved very fast this fall as he joined the Red Bulls' pros for the last two games of the MLS Reserve League season and was called up to the U.S. under-18 national team.
Moreno started the final Reserve League game against Toronto FC alongside Kenny Cooperand scored. He was a newcomer on the U-18s. They were coming off a big win over the Dutch U-18s in Europe and he figured he wouldn't get a chance in the two friendlies against Canada. But he came on a sub and scored in both games.
U.S. U-18 national team coach Javier Perez says his team is deep at the wide positions up front with Julian Greenof Bayern Munich, Zach Pfeffer, whom the Philadelphia Union just loaned to Hoffenheim in Germany, and former U.S. U-17 Paul Arriola, who is in the Los Angeles Galaxy academy, but he'll be bringing Moreno back next year.
But it was in practice with the Red Bulls that Moreno says he learned his biggest lesson. He told mlssoccer.com how he had mouthed off at one of the Red Bull players after losing the ball and taking some criticism. The next thing he knew Thierry Henry came in and took him out.
“Henry did it to teach me a lesson, to keep my mouth shut,” Moreno said. “I’m the young guy here and these guys could be like my parents, I should have respect for them and I quickly learned. In a way I kind of thank him for that because it kind of opened my eyes, like I can’t be talking to these guys in that way."
How Moreno develops at the Red Bulls remains to be seen. It has the deepest pool of talent of any academy program in the country, but then-Coach Hans Backe showed little interest in nurturing the young players in his ranks.
After two and a half years, Juan Agudelo was traded to Chivas USA last summer. Homegrown defender Connor Lade, a candidate for 2012 Rookie of the Year, had played four years at St. John's before turning pro. The other homegrown players the Red Bulls signed in previous years have departed.
But Moreno is only the top of the iceberg.
Bryan Gallego may leave Akron to be reunited with his Zips coach, Caleb Porter, at the Portland Timbers, who traded for his homegrown rights. Brandon Allen, the top freshman forward in the college ranks, helped lead Georgetown to the Men's College Cup final.
Another high school senior, goalie Santiago Castano, signed with the Red Bulls out of their academy program.
The U-15/16 team that won the 2012 Development Academy national title featured seven players who have spent time in the U-17 residency program.
Alex Muyl (who team the team with 17 goals) and Adam Najem, who was called up with Moreno for the end of the Red Bulls' Reserve League season, are committed to Georgetown and Akron, respectively.
Goalkeeper Evan Louro, midfielder Christopher Lema and forward Wesley Wade are all still in Bradenton, Fla., and are key players on the U.S. under-17 national team that is preparing for Concacaf qualifying for the 2013 Under-17 World Cup.
THIRTEEN FOR '13:
3. Andrew Farrell (Louisville)
2. Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina)
1. Wil Trapp (Akron-signed with Columbus Crew)