The changing face of MLS's Generation adidas program

For more than 50 years, foreigners have had a huge influence on men's soccer college.

The late Nigerian Chris Ohiri (after whom the former Harvard stadium is named), Jamaican Trevor Harris (father of Wolde Harris) and Canadian Alec Papadakis (the USL CEO) represented the first generation of college imports who starred in college soccer in the 1960s.

A wave of international stars to schools like Howard, Clemson and San Francisco changed college soccer in the 1970s before top programs began to stock teams with Americans who grew up with the game in the 1980s and 1990s.

For years, they provided MLS with a steady supply of talent for its SuperDraft. The 12-player class of Project-40 (Nike's version of the early signing program) players in 2000 was all Americans and included four future U.S. World Cup players: Kyle Beckerman, Carlos Bocanegra, Bobby Convey and Nick Rimando.

But as more players go through MLS academies and sign with the senior team before or out of high school, join their USL second teams or are tagged as Homegrown players, that supply of draft material has dried up.

MLS is now turning its attention to foreigners attracted to college soccer. Five of the six players in MLS's 2018 Generation adidas class announced on Friday are foreigners. Indeed, more than 60 percent of the GA signings in the last five years -- 19 of 31 -- are foreigners, including Canadians.

They include Jamaican Andre Blake, a 2016 Best XI pick with the Philadelphia Union, high-scoring Canadian forward Cyle Larin with Orlando City and exciting Englishman Jack Harrison, who will enter his third season with New York City FC.

Here's a look at the 2018 GA class:

Mo Adams (Syracuse sophomore)
Before college: Played for Derby County U-18s.
Notable: Fourth Orangeman in four years to sign GA deal

Adams played with Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in the Derby County youth system before being recruited sight unseen by Syracuse via Vertex Soccer, which links up English players seeking opportunities at U.S. colleges.

English pro clubs have reason to encourage players to seek U.S. college opportunities as they have come under increasing pressure to not leave the vast majority of players who don't turn pro without career skills. Vertex's Sam Craven told the Daily Telegraph that the majority of players his firm now works with come from Premier League programs.

Gordon Wild (Maryland junior)
Before college: Played for Wehen Wiesbaden II in German fifth tier.
Notable: Scored 16 goals at USC Upstate and 22 in two seasons with Terrapins.

Wild is the third German who has signed a GA contract after Julian Buescher and Fabian Herbers in 2016. After four seasons at Providence, Julian Gressel won the 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year award with Atlanta United. Like their English counterparts, most Germans turn to U.S. colleges after they've hit a ceiling at the highest levels of the youth systems of German pro clubs.

Wild spent time at Mainz, then moved to third-tier Wehen Wiesbaden. He was playing for its second team in the fifth-tier Hessenliga when his parents -- both career acrobats -- encouraged him to try college soccer. Wild, who occasionally worked with his parents doing soccer tricks at private weekend circus acts, started out at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“I had no idea what a conference was, what the NCAA was,” he told the Washington Post last year. “It was jumping into an ocean.”

Francis Atuahene (Michigan junior)
Before college:
Right to Dream graduate via Kent School.
Third in career goals (24), sixth in career points (59) for Wolverines.

Ema Twumasi (Wake Forest sophomore)
Before college: Right to Dream graduate via Kent School.
Notable: All-ACC first-team pick with 10 goals and 7 assists.

Right to Dream is a Ghanaian-based residential academy that places boys and girls at high schools or clubs abroad. It works with boarding schools in New England and California for American placements.

MLS Dreamers who took the U.S,. route include Emmanuel Boateng, Joshua Yaro and Abu Danladi. Boateng started out his pro career in Sweden before joining the LA Galaxy in 2016. Yaro was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 SuperDraft while Danladi went No. 1 last year. Both Atuahane and Twumasi could go high in the 2018 SuperDraft.

Like Danladi, Atuahane has been nagged by injuries. But he showed glimpses of magic with both the University of Michigan and the PDL Michigan Bucks to grab the attention of MLS scouts.

Twumasi was the playmaker for Wake Forest, the dominant team in the ACC and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Plenty of MLS teams know all about Twumasi because the Demon Deacons also featured Kevin Politz and Brandon Servania, who signed Homegrown contracts with New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, respectively, and Jon Bakero, the 2017 Hermann Trophy winner and one three seniors to sign with MLS on Friday ahead of the adidas Combine.

Joao Moutinho (Akron freshman)
Before college: Played for Sporting Lisbon U-19s.
Notable: First-team All-America with 3 goals and 5 assists.

Akron has produced 12 Generation adidas players in the last 10 years, the most of any college program during that period. During the Caleb Porter era, the Zips attracted the cream of the crop of American players. (The 2011 GA class included a record five players from Akron, including Darlington Nagbe.)

Akron always attracted international talent like Steve Zakuani, the first pick in the 2009 SuperDraft, and Darren Mattocks, but nothing like today. Moutinho hails from Portugal, one of 12 countries represented on the Zips' 2017 College Cup team.

Mason Toye (Indiana freshman)
Before college: Played for PDA, before that Red Bulls academy and Soccer Domain FC.
Notable: Big Ten Freshman of the Year with 10 goals and 2 assists.

Toye, the lone American in the 2018 GA class, is unusual for top MLS prospects. He played high school soccer -- and he played two sports in high school.

Toye played parts of three seasons in the Development Academy, first with the New York Red Bulls, then PDA, but he played his junior and senior years at Seton Hall Prep. But he started out at Morristown-Beard School, where he quit soccer for six months and played varsity basketball as a freshman.

Toye, a forward, was always a top soccer prospect, though. He trained at Sporting Lisbon in 2016 and with the U.S. U-20s before one of their last camps before the 2017 Under-20 World Cup.

2 comments about "The changing face of MLS's Generation adidas program".
  1. Wallace Wade, January 6, 2018 at 11:19 a.m.

    Great! Just what American Soccer needs...our own domestic league focused on young foreign players. Please , let’s all work to develop American players.

  2. Ric Fonseca, January 7, 2018 at 5:05 p.m.

    And this comment is to first say to Mr. Wallace Wade, you couldn't hae said it more powerful in a short two line comment as I couldn't agree with you more nor less.However, I am very dismayed by Paul Kennedy's article especially when he mentions only a couple out of several hundred universities that fielded then fledgling NCAA varsity soccer teams, and - sorry Paul - his somewhat pyopic lack of mentioning the likes of San Jose State, Coached by legendary Julius Menendez - He also neglected to mention UCLA that actually started it's path to NCAA Soccer in the mid-60s, yes with a plethora of "international foreign" students and also coached by an English transplant, Dennis Storer and then Terry Fisher (recently featured in SA), not to omit the then men's "Club" team at USC coached by Nuri Ertuk who just happened to work at that University. Ironically and sadly, USC has not seen fit to even field an NCAA Division I men's team, opting instead to support its women's program - and rightly so. Other universities included Cal St Fullerton, San Diego State, Cal State Los Angeles, etc. These universities drew players from the international foreign student population until such time as the "home grown" players began to migrate to soccer (thanks to youth rec and competitive play as well as the local adult affiliated and unaffiliated leagues, e.g. Greater Los Angeles SL, Caliofnria Soccer League, etc.)  
    What does gall me at this juncture of US Soccer, is that colleges and universities that are signing UK and European players demonstrate to me and the possible home grown player (a perfect example are the Mexican/Latino players that are enticed to play in Liga MX, many that were blatantly overlooked by local college - community two-year and NCAA Div I, II, III teams - coaches.  
    What's even more disturbind is that a foreign student (UK/Euro) college tuition is higher than that for a local student athlete.  Does anyone know just how much it costs to go to, ok, I'll say it, UCLA for a foreign student per year?  Do a little research and one will see that the cost is probably three times more than for a resident student-athlete. And then, unless I didn't fully understand Paul Kennedy's article that the foreign UK/European etc., foreign student-athlete will only stay put for for or two years, much like their student-athletes in basketball (one and done) or football three and gone) In other words, they're using the system (can't say much as I blame them) and not even compl,eting their degree program!
    Lastly, and OK, ok, okm, there is a lot yet to be said about this and I close with the question is that I most certainly hope that the so-called "MLS Generation adidas," is in place only to try - not too succesfully, I might add! - and recruit/sign local American home grown players whatever their ethnicity and only pay lip service?

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