Q&A with the SA Editors: Dec. 7, 1999

Matthew Blanton Chicago, Ill. Is it just me or is anybody shocked at what is happening to the Project-40 graduating class? Some of these guys who were cut by their MLS clubs (definitely not all) were in my opinion quality players who were far from reaching their potential. Guys like Buka [Ubusuku Abukusumo] at Columbus played some quality minutes at time. So much for developing guys we already started investing time and money into. I mean, does it make sense to send this message to the up'n'coming lads who are trying to decide on whether to stay in college or be developed as a pro?! Ridge Mahoney: Matthew, I think your outlook is somewhat naive. Most pro clubs will sign dozens of young players, with the hope that a few of them improve enough to be starters. MLS cannot guarantee players will develop into regular performers, and those fans that clamor for full-fledged reserve teams should look at what happens to those players the league does invest money and resources to develop. It's a very expensive, risky gamble. Now, the whole concept of shipping P-40 players as a traveling road show is certainly not conducive to top-flight development. But what it does do is weed out the players who lack commitment and desire. Such is the case on reserve squads of pro clubs -- the survivors are not strictly the most talented players, but those that display determination as well as skill. Dema Kovalenko came to Chicago with all kinds of attitude, and after a few games in the backwaters, he came back to the Fire more willing to work, and is developing into a pretty good player. In the case of Buka, I agree he did show some potential. It's tough for a player to play a few MLS games, then get kicked back and forth between the big league and the Project-40 team. It's not the ideal situation. The decision to drop him came from his coach, not MLS. He didn't share your opinion of Buka. Maybe the coach believes Buka has reached his potential. If he re-signs, he'll go back into the player pool, probably as a regular roster player, not a P-40 and could be drafted by another team. Or he could sign with an A-League team and try to work his way back that way. Project-40 is a testing ground, not a guaranteed pipeline to the pros. Some players will succeed and some will fail. (If you have a question for a Soccer America Magazine editor, click "Q&A with SA Editors" in the left column of the home page under "Interactive.")
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