MLS's shrinking rookie class

There's a paradox to the MLS youth movement.

Good young players are breaking into the league -- and more are on the way -- but few of them are classified as rookies.

MLS: 2019 Rookies

Each American sports league has its own definition of a rookie -- in some cases used to set the parameters by what a first-year player can be paid.

MLS's definition of a rookie is:

"Any player who is in the first year of professional experience which exhausts his collegiate eligibility."

There is no exception like Major League Baseball, where a player who hasn't previously exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings or more than 45 days on a 25-player MLB active roster in a previous season (or seasons) is classified as a rookie. That means a player who's spent 10 years in the minor leagues can still be classified as a pro.

In MLS, one game as a pro in the USL is enough to nix a player's rookie status the next season.

The rookie classification worked fine when all or most first-year domestic players came the college ranks. Now, more and more first-year domestic players are Homegrown Player signings. Some went to college but increasingly they are coming from the academy ranks. And in the latest twist, they are graduating from MLS second teams in the USL.

What complicates things is that some players have played in the USL on academy contracts -- maintaining their collegiate eligibility -- but others signed USL contracts before signing MLS contracts.

Those differences explain why the LA Galaxy's two teenagers playing in MLS for the first time are classified differently:

-- Julian Araujo, 17, is a rookie because the two USL games he played for LA Galaxy II in 2018 were on a USL academy contract.

-- Efrain Alvarez, 16, is not a rookie because he played for LA Galaxy II in the USL in 2018 on an MLS pro contract. (He wasn't even a rookie in 2018 because he signed a USL pro contract and played in the USL in 2017.)

If he was eligible, the early candidate for the 2019 MLS Rookie of Year would be 18-year-old Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson, who scored in his MLS debut and started in the last six games for the Union, which has gone 4-1-1.

Aaronson spent the 2018 USL season on a USL academy contract, but because he signed an MLS contract to take effect in 2019 last September, that exhausted his collegiate eligibility, rendering him ineligible for the 2019 Rookie of the Year.

Right now, only two rookies -- FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo and Chicago defender Jeremiah Gutjahr -- have played more than half the time for their respective teams.
2 comments about "MLS's shrinking rookie class".
  1. Ben Myers, April 24, 2019 at 12:17 p.m.

    Maybe it's time to rewrite the rules for what is an MLS rookie?  This is about as obscure as you can get, and, finally, MLS is a'changin, no longer dependent on college talent, oft not developed well.

  2. humble 1 replied, April 25, 2019 at 6:34 p.m.

    The truth of the matter is that if you watch international soccer - there is no - 'rookie' - designation.  There is really only a 'first-team' debute.  MLS leverage on young players in USA to keep them under 'rookie' designation is threatened by foreign poachers, who are free to offer whatever contract terms they feel the player warrents.  This is on the battle front for young talent.  While we all wait for the day we see MLS producing world class US talent in their league by giving young players a chance, we will also see that the the concepts of 'free-agency' and 'salary cap' are also threatened by the global game. 

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