[MLS] The New England Revolution's signing of 15-year-old Diego Fagundez -- the youngest player signed to an MLS
contract since Freddy Adu joined D.C. United at the age of 14 in 2004 -- as its first homegrown player signals MLS's rapid expansion into player development.
MLS's board of governors is expected to vote this week to lift limits on the number of homegrown players clubs can sign.
A relaxation in NCAA rules, allowing amateur players to play alongside pros as long as they aren't paid, means MLS teams can give opportunities for young academy players without their losing their college eligibility.
The moves come as homegrown players -- players MLS teams signed from their academy teams -- played prominent roles in the 2010 season.
D.C. United's Danny Najar was a rare bright spot for the four-time MLS champions and earned 2010 Rookie of the Year honors.
Juan Agudelo, another 17-year-old attacking player, started both playoff games for the New York Red Bulls and earned a call-up to the U.S. national team.
Ruben Luna, one of three home-grown players signed by FC Dallas over the summer, played in the second of three FCD games on the road to MLS Cup 2010.
The new NCAA rules, adopted to deal with issues colleges had signing foreign basketball players, mean MLS teams will be able to try out academy players as young as 14 or 15 in the U.S. Open Cup, Concacaf Champions League and friendlies.
Such moves are common for big clubs in Europe and South America but unheard of up until now in American sports. (College ice hockey programs opted out of the new rules for fear that young players would be attracted to Junior A pro clubs.)
The Philadelphia Union used 15-year-old Zach Pfeffer in its friendly against Chivas Guadalajara, and Toronto FC started high school player Ashtone Morgan at left back for its final Concacaf Champions League game against Arabe Unido in October.
MLS's aggressive move into player development is greater incentive for it to resurrect its Reserve League.
Teams will need playing opportunities for their homegrown signings and academy players they will want to test against older competition.
The Uruguayan-born Fagundez played the 2009-10 season with the Revolution’s U-16 squad and earned U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Starting XI honors after scoring 20 goals. He previously played for FC Greater Boston Bolts.
He was called into camp with the U.S. under-15 national team in 2010.