MLS should mandate minutes for homegrown players

By Mike Woitalla

In 2007, Major League Soccer created the Youth Development Initiative, requiring its clubs to field youth teams.

Five years later, Commissioner Don Garber says that the league-wide investment in youth development is about $20 million a year.

“There was a time when our entire salary budget wasn’t $20 million a year,” Garber said. “Clearly developing young players is one of our top priorities.”

The Commissioner added that the investment has not paid off yet, but that the league is determined to forge ahead on the youth front.

“We will continue to invest massive amounts of money in our academy programs and our reserve league,” Garber said during his State of the League press conference on Monday. “We are very focused on doing everything we can to build a pyramid and take responsibility for growing the game in this country. We benefit by that obviously with access to young players, but probably as important, the league continues to want to take a leadership position in growing the game overall. … We know how important that is to help our country be better on the national team level.

“We’ve got a great partner in adidas that supports this effort. Those Generation adidas players in essence are an incentive for our clubs to have on their rosters in that they don’t count against the cap.”

Six MLS clubs -- D.C. United, New York, Columbus, Chicago, Chivas USA and Colorado -- fielded teams in the inaugural 2007-08 season of the U.S. Development Academy in its U-15/16 and U-17/18 leagues. This season, 17 of MLS’s 19 clubs field teams in the Development Academy, which in 2013 is expanding to U-13/14. (Toronto does not take part; the Philadelphia Union affiliates with PDA, FC Delco and PA Classics.)

A big benefit of MLS’s expansion into the youth game has been providing cost-free soccer to elite players. But five years since the Youth Development Initiative, we’ve yet to a significant impact of homegrown players with their MLS clubs’ first teams.

Of the 57 players MLS clubs have signed to homegrown contracts, only 29 played in the 2012 season. Of those 29, only six could be classified as regulars: Chivas USA's Juan Agudelo, D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Andy Najar, New York's Connor Lade and Toronto FC's Ashtone Morgan and Doneil Henry.

One solution would be to force clubs to give a minimum of playing time to homegrown players. UEFA requires teams to include a minimum of eight homegrown players in their 25-man squads to be eligible for its competitions.

The Mexican league, in 2005, introduced the rule known as Regla 20/11, which required first division teams to give at least 1,000 minutes of action to players under the age of 20 years-11 months during a season or be penalized with points subtractions. Mexico dropped the Regla 20/11 in 2011 because it was no deemed longer necessary.

Garber says MLS has contemplated such a rule.

“We have we have spent a lot of time, as recently as two-three weeks ago, when we had a competition and technical meeting, talking about the concept of mandatory play for young players,” Garber said. “We’ve done a lot of research on it. We’re certainly mindful of the success Mexico has had. We’re not sure if that success was driven by the mandatory rule as much as it’s driven by just a massive commitment by the league working in partnership with the federation down there.

“It’s hard to argue that they haven’t been incredibly successful.”

For their part, MLS clubs have increasingly looked to imported foreign talent. Coaches, whose tenures end quickly if the results aren’t good, can be reluctant to give youngsters a chance. Perhaps they should be forced to place faith in what their clubs are doing at the youth level.

And mandating a reasonable amount of playing time to homegrown players would end up rewarding the clubs that have invested well in player development.

Wouldn’t that be the obvious final piece in the puzzle of MLS’s quest to improve American soccer?

9 comments about "MLS should mandate minutes for homegrown players".
  1. A A-Chibsah, November 27, 2012 at 11:32 a.m.

    this might sound like a good idea, but i disagree with the motion. i think the focus should be on proper development, instead of forcing clubs to play players, that might not be ready at the highest level. proper development includes, better coaching, MLS should have a similar league like the NEXT GENERATION SERIES, in Europe, to give these guys lots of game time, and also play those players in some sort of league cups, like FA CUP, LEAGUE CUP< ETC..these are the places where homegrown players should be preparing before the engage into a higher level..i dont think most of these homegrown players are ready for MLS games yet

  2. Brendan Doherty, November 27, 2012 at 1:15 p.m.

    Looking towards Mexico is a great idea. But the success of the Regla 20/11 wasn't due to just an increase in playing time for young players. The success was also due to the restructuring of the national youth leagues (u17 and u20) to make them more professional and the fact that "B teams" play in the lower leagues in Mexico.

    The u17 and u20 leagues and B teams meant that when players who came through the system after 2005 were ready to contribute to the first team by the time they were 20. The U.S. doesn't have the same framework from which to operate.

    I'm all for emulating aspects of Mexico's development scheme because their success at u17, u20, u23 levels has been nothing short of remarkable.

    With regard to A-Chibsah's comments, MLS academy teams plays in the Development Academy League and they also have a yearly tournament in the late summer called the Generation adidas u-17 tournament. Outside of the U.S. Open Cup, the best chance for young players to get playing time is after their teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. Look at Fagundez at NER and McInerney at Philly for good examples, or Marco Delgado and Brent Richards making debuts after their teams were eliminated.

  3. Brendan Doherty, November 27, 2012 at 1:16 p.m.

    Sorry about the giant block of a comment; spacing didn't work.

  4. soccer talk, November 27, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.

    I believe that the focal point for the OS call should be the foot (feet) that are in contact w/ the ground for which the power/advantage generates the movement. It is senseless worrying about the nose, head... The AR can concentrate soley on the foot/ground area and When in the slightest of doubt keep the flag down. The head refferee can decline to accept the AR decision @ any call and discuss this w/ his team prior to the match by signaling often w/ the lowering hand gesture to the AR if he sees the flag up.

  5. John Owens, November 27, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.

    You need to force clubs to give young players the opportunity. Managers/coaches will always seek to win the next game and will not give enough focus to development. It is too much of a gamble, with their job as the stake. That is the problem at the big clubs in England. I coached at Liverpool for 19 years finishing as Academy Manager. We were a Club that gave opportunities to young talent: Steve Macmanaman, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard. They were not 100% ready but they were given thier chance. Then we had foreign managers, coaches and owners who put too much faith in recruitment of talent and ignored the development pathway. We had too many years of mismanagement. Now with less funds our current manager has had to give young players the opportunity and, low and behold, some are flourishing. If he had been given a large transfer fund then he might, like all managers, try to buy the quick fix. For the transfer window in January we are sure to hear the cry from managers that "we just need 3 players" and they say it as if there is a suoermarket where they can walk down the aisle marked "defenders" and select a full-back or go to aisle number 9 for a striker. Development goes out of the window.
    Sure UEFA have a rule for so-called 'homegrown' players but if an English club signs a foreign player at age 16 and coaches him through to age 19 then he becomes 'homegrown' but will not be eligible to play for England. Even the few Premiership managers who are English would not play a young player simply to benefit the national team. They care only about their own results, ie. their own job. Two seasons ago in the second half of a Premier League game, a substitution was made and then the 22 players on the pitch were from 22 different countries. This was fantastic for the EPL because it is a business - end of story. The one English player was a GK who had already retired from international football. The EPL have their own agenda (TV rights) and they have all of the power/money in the game in England. To get more young players through to 1st Team football, we need clubs to fall on hard times or a rule to force the issue. Managers will not do it simply for the good of the national team. A competition like NextGen is a fantastic idea rather than water down 1st Team competitions like the FA Cup. But the powers-thet-be will only initiate it if there is something in it for them. Politics.
    Your Youth Development Initiative of 5 years ago needs refreshing - evolution not revolution. So you can force the issue to give young USA players the opportunity or you can wait and wait hoping it will happen naturally. Do you want the MLS to be a world class league or the national team to be the best it can be? OK so you want both (no surprise) but which do you want more?
    Good luck with it.

  6. Luis Arreola, November 27, 2012 at 1:48 p.m.

    Wotailla, right on. How can anyone question wether or not this is the best thing for better homegrown player results after looking at Mexico? Its all about accountability to get the results. It is no secret that the current Academy system is mostly geared to win for club results than anything else. I am willing to bet that most of the top players in any Academy has only been in that particular team for 1-2 years, whcih means that they developed mostly elsewhere. Why? No one is really accountable. If you force MLS clubs to play their homegrown talent then they must invest much more and probably reestablish their current development system and can not depend so much on simply recruiting already developed players. Although it will undeniably improve player scouting and national team recckmendations. All those other U17, U20 & U23 systems in Mexico were put in place as a consequence of accountability, made absolute sense to do for all. These clubs must find a make it work where they don't drastically diminish the quality of play because of being forced to play this new but inexperienced talent so they must develop. MLS clubs will never want to risk getting their homegrown players getting booed at instead of playing it safe with seasoned foreign players. They must be forced to. Then we will see who has been doing their homework and exactly how much true talent we have in USA. I bet you will all be surprised.

  7. Allan Lindh, November 27, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.

    It's not an all or nothing program. Start with a reasonable small number, 1000 min/yr of homegrowns under 21 per club per year isn't that much. Then grow it slowly per year. Having the US "B Team" play in MLS as a wild card, or at least play in the Open Cup, would be good step also.

  8. Brian Something, November 27, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.

    No way should they mandate minutes. MLS clubs are a business and they need to put out a product that people will pay their hard earned money to watch. The best thing MLS can do for young players is to continue to exist.

  9. Luis Arreola, November 27, 2012 at 11:52 p.m.

    I think people would and should pay their hard earned money to see what their home grown players are being trained and developed to do. I know I would go to many more games to see these rookies in action. If these kids are technically bad or if I see better players in amatuer leagues then we should all boo or boycott the MLS for sure. Brian, do you see the Academy dramatically improving with no accountability what's so ever? The Chicago Fire for example is boring to watch for me because of the quality in technical ability of its players. I would much rather see its homegrown player and U20 National Team regular, Victor Pineda, play once in a while with them. I don't think there are any Mexican National U20's not playing on their clubs first teams as starters. People seem to want to pay well to watch them play in Mexico. Brian, are you saying that the quality would diminish that much and that our USA talent is that much inferior to what Mexico produces as far as homegrown players go? Mexico league is surely much better than MLS. I don't understand that logic.

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