Youth Development: MLS teams still have a long way to go

MLS's Homegrown Player Rule was introduced in 2008 to incentivize teams to sign players from their academies and reward them for their investment in player development.

Homegrown Player policies are controversial. Players who come through MLS academies can only sign with the MLS team that developed them, and territorial rights prevent teams from signing young (non-college) players who grew up in the designated player markets of other teams.

MLS teams invest millions of dollars each year in player development and have built massive player complexes to operate their academy teams. Many teams also operate on-site residency programs or high school programs to house and educate young players, following the model of clubs in major soccer nations around the world.

But what return are teams getting for their investment? How many first-team regulars are they using and how many players are being sold or traded?

In the long term, MLS teams will only be able to compete on the field with teams from around the world if they can develop their own players to fill their lineups or sell them and invest the proceeds to buy other players. The alternative is to stock (at great expense) players acquired on the international player market.

A few teams have hit the jackpot with the sale of Homegrown players abroad and used the proceeds to fund other moves. After the sale of Ricardo Pepi to Augsburg, FC Dallas went out and acquired Argentine winger Alan Velasco from Independiente for what the club said was a record transfer fee and Paul Arriola from D.C. United for a record amount of allocation money. Philadelphia sold young stars Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie after the 2020 season and spent more modestly on Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza, who have combined for 45 goals and 24 assists in 2022.

But Homegrown Players still make up a small percentage of players MLS teams are playing regularly. Of the players who played 1,000 or more minutes so far this season, less than 16 percent -- 59 players in total -- were Homegrown players or players whose territorial rights were held by another team when they entered MLS.

In 2021, NYCFC became the first team to win MLS Cup with two of its own Homegrown players in its starting lineup. But of the top five teams in the current MLS standings, only two have Homegrown players whom they developed and who have played 1,000-plus minutes.

Philadelphia, the Supporters' Shield standings leader, had four academy stars on the USA's Concacaf U-20 champions, but only Jack McGlynn has gotten regular playing time since their return from the 2022 Concacaf championship in Honduras. But the Union is in a unique situation. Jim Curtin has a set lineup that is breaking offensive scoring records just about every week and could also break an MLS season record for the stingiest defense.

It shouldn't be easy for young players to get significant playing time, especially as MLS sign players at younger ages, but just 17 Homegrown Players signed in the last three years have played 1,000 or more minutes. Four of them are in their first seasons: American Caleb Wiley with Atlanta United and Canadians Luca Petrasso, Deandre Kerr and Kosi Thompson at Toronto FC.

There are plenty of other domestic players MLS are using: almost 40 percent of players who have played 1,000 or more minutes are Americans or Canadians. Most are older players who spent time in college, were developed abroad and moved back home or didn't qualify for Homegrown status when they entered MLS. And that doesn't include foreigners who attended U.S. colleges. Going forward, fewer MLS players will have had any college experience, though.

Of Europe's big 5 leagues, France's Ligue 1 and Spain's LaLiga probably have the best reputation for developing homegrown talent with the percentage of Frenchmen in Ligue 1 and Spaniards in LaLiga exceeding 60 percent in recent years.

That should be MLS's goal. Needless to say, teams have a long way to go if they want their investment in player development to pay off.

MLS Homegrown Players (1,000+ minutes in 2022)

Note: in parentheses is the year a player signed a Homegrown player contract.

Atlanta United (3)
Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake HG, 2018)
George Campbell
Caleb Wiley (2022)
Major HG movers: George Bello, Tyler Wolff (loan).

Austin FC (2)
Diego Fagundez (New England HG, 2011)
Nick Lima (San Jose HG, 2017)

Charlotte FC (1)
Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting KC HG, 2017)

Chicago Fire (3)
Gabriel Slonina (2019)
Brian Gutierrez (2020)
Mauricio Pineda (2020)

Colorado Rapids (2)
Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy HG, 2013)
Auston Trusty (Philadelphia HG, 2016)
Major HG movers: Cole Bassett (loan), Sam Vines.

Columbus Crew (2)
Derrick Etienne (NY Red Bulls, 2016)
Aidan Morris (2020)

FC Dallas (5)
Paxton Pomykal (2016)
Marco Farfan (Portland HG, 2017)
Jesús Ferreira (2017)
Brandon Servania (2018)
Edwin Cerrillo (2019)
Major HG movers: Alejandro Zendejas, Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds, Chris Richards, Ricardo Pepi, Justin Che (loan), Tanner Tessmann.

D.C. United (2)
Chris Durkin (2016)
Donovan Pines (2019)
Major HG movers: Bill Hamid, Chris Durkin, Ian Harkes, Kevin Paredes, Moses Nyeman, Griffin Yow.

Houston Dynamo (2)
Memo Rodríguez (2015)
Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake, 2018)

Inter Miami (4)
DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle HG, 2012)
Ariel Lassiter (Inter Miami HG, 2015)
Drake Callender
(San Jose HG rights, 2020)
Bryce Duke (Real Salt Lake HG rights,  2020)

Sporting Kansas City (2)
Cameron Duke (2019)
Felipe Hernández (2019)
Major HG movers: Erik Palmer-Brown, Gianluca Busio.

LA Galaxy (2)
Efraín Álvarez (2018)
Mark Delgado (Chivas USA HG, 2012)

Los Angeles FC (2)
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas HG, 2013)
Maxime Crépeau (CF Montreal HG, 2013)

Minnesota United (1)
Wil Trapp  (Columbus HG, 2013)

CF Montreal (2)
Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago HG, 2017)
Mathieu Choinière (2018)

Nashville SC (2)
Sean Davis (NY Red Bulls HG, 2015)
Alex Muyl (NY Red Bulls HG, 2016)

New England Revolution (0)

New York City FC (1)
Tayvon Gray (2020)
Major HG movers: James Sands, Joe Scally.

New York Red Bulls (2)
Omir Fernandez (2019)
John Tolkin (2020)
Major HG movers: Tyler Adams.

Orlando City (1)
Benji Michel (2019)

Philadelphia Union (1)
Nathan Harriel (Orlando City HG rights, 2021)
Major HG movers: Anthony Fontana, Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, Jack de Vries.

Portland Timbers (1)
Eryk Williamson (D.C. United HG rights, 2018)

Real Salt Lake (4)
Scott Caldwell (New England HG, 2013)
Justen Glad (2014)
Aaron Herrera (2018)
Andrew Brody (2021)
Major HG movers: Sebastian Saucedo.

San Jose Earthquakes (3)
Tommy Thompson (2014)
JT Marcinkowski (2018)
Cade Cowell  (2019)

Seattle Sounders (1)
Jordan Morris (2016)
Major HG movers: DeAndre Yedlin, Henry Wingo.

Toronto FC (6)
Shane O'Neill (Colorado HG 2012)
Ayo Akinola (2018)
Jayden Nelson (2020)
Luca Petrasso (2022)
Deandre Kerr (2022)
Kosi Thompson (2022)
Major HG movers: Jay Chapman, Liam Fraser.

Vancouver Whitecaps (2)
Russell Teibert (2011)
Thomas Hasal (2019)
Major HG movers: Sam Adekugbe, Alphonso Davies, Theo Bair.

Ferreira Photo: Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire; Yedlin Photo: Katie Startman/MLS.

21 comments about "Youth Development: MLS teams still have a long way to go".
  1. Chris Wasdyke, September 13, 2022 at 9:07 a.m.

    Are there any stats to compare MLS teams to European teams? Especially those in the top 5 leagues?  It's hard to gauge how behind you are without a comparison.  

  2. humble 1, September 13, 2022 at 10:25 a.m.

    On the pro level, the way to compare academy performance in the medium to long run, is to track transfer payments.  Since USSF only began registering players with FIFA so clubs could claim xfer payment in January of 2019, we have a way to go here.  No where else in the world are there HG players.  In the short term it is players being signed to pro contracts.  Beware with this though.  Richardson signed his big pro contract out of FC Dallas.  Truth is he played with the Houston Texans at U17 and before that his youth soccer was in Alabama. In the world of FIFA xfer payments all the partties that had him for a year would get paid.  Perspective: When Liverpool signed Darwin Nunez this summer, in Uruguay, Penarol, his youth team, got a check for something in the range of $3 million. 

  3. humble 1, September 13, 2022 at 10:30 a.m.

    You write: "MLS teams invest millions of dollars each year in player development and have built massive player complexes to operate their academy teams." Is this really true cross the board?  Can we paint with the big brush with those words or, is it more localized to say Philly, Dallas, etc.  As recently as 3 years ago there was an Academy that was still pay as i understand and in Minnesota, I am pretty sure they have a hybrid situation.  In Houston, they rent the facility from County/State/City, not sure, I know it well, it is not even the equal to Montevideo City Torque, in Uruguay, not even close, and they now have like 3 teams in the Academy.  This is also far above the Dallas setup which I know as well.  As I recall as well, the DA had xfer payments from USSF to MLS Academies.  I am just not convinced on the level of investment cross the board.  To understand MLS Academies, need to really drill down and have context from abroad to assess.

  4. humble 1 replied, September 13, 2022 at 10:32 a.m.

    I mean the City Torque Academy in Montevideo, it is better, larger, with more staff, than Dallas Academy setup, with the exception that Dallas has integration to school which is priceless and far beyond anything in Uruguay. 

  5. humble 1, September 13, 2022 at 10:40 a.m.

    I will add one more thing as it relates to looking at MLS Academies in a global context.  The number one producer of pro players in the world, by far, no one is even close, is Brazil.  Compare US to France, Spain, England even Italy or Germany, these are like Texas or California or smaller.  The Brazilians do it with scale and size.  I do not know it well, but I do know that it is very decentralized, with many teams and leagues, and that in Brazil, in the top league, most of the players are, from ... drum roll ... Brazil.   

  6. cony konstin, September 13, 2022 at 10:54 a.m.

    It took our US youth club 7 years to get our player developmental fees until Fifa finally stepped up and favored us. Every youth club in the US who has had a player played pro soccer anywhere in the world including the MLS should be getting player developmental fees and solidarity fees. If you haven't then get a lawyer and fight for it. You want respect you got step up and take a stand. 

  7. humble 1, September 13, 2022 at 1:14 p.m.

    I offer another point of reference for MLS Academies, if anyone is reading.  This summer my son trained with two clubs in two academies abroad for three weeks.  These acadmies are for clubs in the countries 'premier' divisiion and they play in the 'top' academy league in the country.  This was not part of a set travel 'trip', he just trained.  Since thier accademies are not setup to receive payment, all players are scholarshiped, we paid with soccer balls.  Every player he trained with is listed for all to see on the web.  Game stats are also published,  Everyone can see who scored, how many saves keep had, and more.  Two of the players he trained with were called up to the youth national 2005 team, another, a keeper, a 2006 like my son, was called to the first team.  The academy league they play in is adminstered by the country association, not the premier division, because their premier division is not a franchise group, so they share the cost of the leagua and pay the national association to administer it.  Still this is an important distinction, the league is run by the national association, not by the franchise group like MLS or some youth registration behemoth AYSO, USYS or UCS.  All the data, standings, schedules, scores, stats, is open to anyone that cares to see it.  Take that as context.  Sundy my son's team, played the local MLS Next teams U19 team in a league outside MLS Next called USPL.  My son defended very well a player two years his senior who is already commited to a big D1 college, I wanted to grab the kids name for the highlights from the game, not possible.  Not published.  Not showing up on any google search.  You see here in USA in youth soccer, secrecty prevails.  All are afraid to loose their unsigned youth talent.  I spills over to parents, who secretly pay coaches for traininng or trainers outside the club.  The culture of secrecy makes talent ID challenging.  The swimming pool is not clear, but cloudy, cannot see to the bottom, this is by design.  We all who have youth plaers, when we look at schedule or scores, see where there is a column for goals or tackles or saves when we go on line, but of course, those numbers are never complete.  No written rules, the unwritten rules.  This culture of secrecy that even rolls up to MLS Clubs and thier academies is just one of the many issues keeping MLS and other Academies from performing.  Had I not trained my player abroad in South Amercan for many years and been fortunate to have a friend with a year older than mine who has pulled back the covers, I would be just another soccer parent who did not play the game.  

  8. frank schoon, September 13, 2022 at 1:20 p.m.

    PLAYER DEVELOPMENT???   Until they bring in former greats, helping, guiding our players,  teach the real "insights" of the game, technically,/tacticalgiving good advice, and regardless of the fantistic facilities, golden toilet bows, staff and other super impressive accommodations it AIN'T DEVELOPMENT. 

    Arturo, the Brazilian 21year old Ajax player bought by ManUtd. a couple of weeks ago for 100million, stated he has learned so much in such a short time in how to be savvy and slim from talking and hanging around Christian Ronaldo.  So even a young Brazilian player who plays for the Brazilian National team has already improved his game by learning from those who 'KNOW'. This is what we need to invest in ,QUALITY NOT QUANTITY....

  9. humble 1 replied, September 14, 2022 at 12:43 p.m.

    So true what you write, my son trained 3 weeks in South America this summer, at the youth club from 8 to 18 of Araujo the young Barca CB.  He drove through two of the worse neighborhoods in the city every day to arrive at their training complex on the outskirts of town, which was old and run down, except, everything worked, and the grass was in good condition.  He has been training there here and there since he was 10.  All a youth club needs is half a soccer pitch and they are set there. I've seen them play youth soccer league games on sand. 

    Frank, and others, if you read this favor to ask, send names of players not currently playing, that I can find on youtube, that you consider the best crossers of the ball.  I need some examples for my player.  Thanks! 

  10. frank schoon replied, September 15, 2022 at 7:30 a.m.

    Humble , I'll work on it

  11. humble 1 replied, September 15, 2022 at 10:46 a.m.


  12. frank schoon replied, September 15, 2022 at 12:51 p.m.

    I've look at Youtube this morning...My best  suggestion is to watch games in the 70's. Yugoslavian games with Dzajic at WC74. There are full games missing for somebody decided to copyright them.
    HSV(Hamburg), manfred Kaltz who th right had one of the best crosses , between '79-83.

    1979-1980 Hamburg-Dinamo Tbilisi - YouTube 1:32 into the nice as example...
    Watch Ajax of the early 70's early 80's. There is a lot. Watch how Kaltz curves that ball

    My suggestion is to place two flags apart ,distance equal to from sideline to goal. Let him cross the ball standing still and work on his bend, then on the dribble...Look it is nice watching crosses on youtube, but nothing does it like practicing it , to get the right feel for it for once you get it is easier to adjust to what you want.

    Ruud Gullit, would practice everyday 60 balls after practice, crosses bending away, straight balls like arrows with no bend ,head high, or waist high, (stationary or dribbling). I always allows my student to dribble 10 meters as if they were coming up the flanks from their own third and look 45degree angle to the other side and the cross ball to an imaginary winger or outside halfback. Prentending the ball crosses the midfield line. I place two flags about 3big steps apart to let that ball land there....If you watch Ronald Koeman in the late 80's or early 90's play for Barcelona attemp those diagonal balls.....
    But most important just let him kick for an hour, everyday ,bending and straight like an arrow, those ball to get the right feel, that's the first step... Realize crossing the ball straight as an arrow is very difficult at first....So first begin with the bends.....

  13. humble 1 replied, September 15, 2022 at 1:22 p.m.

    Thank you Frank.  The kid will do the work.  This is perfect for him to do with his mates after practice, and with me now and then. He is a CB that plays CDM but is used as RB and LB sometimes because he can defent well, he is CB size, former rugby player, so the fullback position is not natural, but he can run fast so they use him when they need stopper on the flank, or he when is playing with older established CBs and they can use him as a back. When he gets those tastes, I want to give him the chance to show some decent crosses as well.  Versatilty.  Goes a long way to keep you on the pitch.  Given his personality, showing helps, and since I only start watching after 2010, I don't have this bank, and he likes history, so we feed the beast.  Thahk you! 

  14. frank schoon replied, September 15, 2022 at 3:46 p.m.

    Humble, let him and his friend do long ball kicks back and forth with the leftfoot!!!!

    Also, set a row of flags about 10meters away from him and then set another row of flags 10meters behind the other row of flags. Then let him pass the ball over the first row to let it drop between the rows.....How many backs or centerbacks can pass a ball over a defender ,drop it behind to their teammate....That's the drill. Today they pass hard on the ground but it is rare to seed defender TODAY pass a ball over the opponent ,to his teammate. They would rather go long....Also if you have a baseball diamond, hang a hula hoop on the fence about few off the ground, then put some flags on the infield and let him pass over the flags. The idea is to get a touch on the pass and direction on the pass...

    In that same drill, allow the partner to stand between the first set of flags and make a pass to him, whereby he has to one-touch it over his partner head ,sort of or over the flags to drop behind. In this case it is a one-touch pass and the other from a dead ball.....It allows him to get a feel for the ball when placing

    Stand about 35,metrers  apart, place a flag next to you on right side, leftside for his partner. Then kick the ball hard ,straight line arrows , no curves or bends ,that means the ball is not allowed to break the plane of the two flags, stays on one side. Then switch to other side ,do the same thing.

  15. humble 1 replied, September 16, 2022 at 11:47 a.m.

    Frank, you made my day with this second post.  When the kid was 12 he started playing in men's leagues, as he was strong enough and technical, but his pass distance and velocity needed improvement.  I had to learn to kick the ball myself to help him get his leg up to standard.  Now I cannot kick with him because his kicks are monsters. I cannot control them, let alone return the ball the distance he just ripped it.  70 yards easily, he will kick further than most keepers and with accuracy.  He already perked up when I told him about the cross drill.  He will be facinated with these additional drills, especially the flag drills for passing over defenders, but also the straight passing between flags.  He loves structure and loves practice.  He already has a flick, but it is not well formed on practice pitch.  What you outline will allow him reps and gives a pathway to have the confidence to do it in game context.  Passing is one of his strengths, it was not always, he worked to get there.  He loves connecting passes.  He will eat this up, and he has mates at club and HS that will work with him.  Thanks a million!   

  16. frank schoon replied, September 16, 2022 at 1:12 p.m.

    Humble, Thanks ,I wish I could watch help out there....Let me know about more info.....Definitely put your kid on a men's team which I did with a 13year old player, who later became all met in DC area in HS. See where there are men's pickup games around your area on saturdays to play 

  17. humble 1 replied, September 16, 2022 at 1:54 p.m.

    Frank, thank you again!  What a treasure trove you pointed me to Kaltz and Dzajic.  Still going thru your list.  My son will be facinated watching these players.  You are spot on, there is an elegance to their play that is missing today, and there are all sorts of crosses going in, especially the looping ball over defenders that drops at the edge of the 6 yd box that can be headed or kicked, that you don't see today.  By chance my son was coached during the pandemic by a former pros from Hungary and Croatia, both UEFA licensed, in Utah.  Their training approach and techniques opened my eyes just a little bit, they were so different to what I had seen here, that I could not help but take note, to how players are developed to have the tehcnical abilities and flair you see in players from eastern europe.

  18. Philip Carragher, September 14, 2022 at 11:06 a.m.

    I used to watch a "coach show" on BEIN that I really enjoyed (not on my cable schedule anymore). One French coach said that they made it a practice of trying to keep their academy kids playing in French leagues and not go to a Barca or Real Madrid because often they disappear at those clubs: they're just one of many. Keeping them at home, they play for teams where these standouts can "be the man" and develop the mindset and other attributes that being a dominating player on a team can help foster.

  19. Gabriel Chapman, September 14, 2022 at 4:59 p.m.

    I think these figures will look radically different in 5 years. The current crop of academy players includes a lot of future pros.

  20. humble 1 replied, September 15, 2022 at 10:57 a.m.

    We will see.  DA / MLS Next been going since 2007.  15 years + 5 = 20.  Unless you change all the coaches why do you think it will change?  We are good at IDing big fast strong players that have passion for the game.  Take a careful look at the intl game and in particular the coming WC.  You will see the teams that go to final 4 have 1. World Class GKs and two players
    that are fast mentally and able technically in small spaces.  We will do well to exit our group, partly bc of a number, a good portion of starters that developed abroad.  If we do, we will run into this wall.  How high you jump, your acceleration, your top speed, do not get you out of 1v2 or 1v3 on sideline or in corners.  This is the challenge.  Unless something changes, and I am in the middle of the gen that will show in 5 yrs with my 16 y.o., and I see turbo soccer everywhere, it will be business as usual.

  21. humble 1 replied, September 15, 2022 at 11:10 a.m.

    Maybe you saw the highlights from Real Madrid's Champions League victory.  You would have seen then, Fedo Valverde, the Uruguayan, quietly, one of the best midfielders in the world, shoot with his right foot off full sprint being tracked by German intl Raum, then get pushed and slapped by Raum.  Then later, take Raum again on full speed, switch to left, break the ankles of Raum, and fire shot with his left looking like a left footer.  What they do in Uruguay to develop those skills, i know, they are not doing here.  That is the level.  There is a process.  I do not see it in 5 years, as I have not seen anything change at the youth level now related to what is required.  Yes, the names changed, DA gone, MLS Next here, ECNL for boys too, but, along the way USSF dropped valuation of United Coaches certs, there-by dropping many many qualified coaches, and then, they created a bottle neck in their cert process, which is by intl standard very expensive, and NOT proven to produce world class coaches, and yeah, they've worked out a bunch of kinks in the last 5 years, but the song remains the same, we do not have enough qualified coaches, and, we do not have play ground soccer, so we can't get over that hump like they do in basketball, finding kids on the playground.  Long way to go, lotta folks working hard at it, I recommend to all, go to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Columbia, not eurpope, take a translater if you have to, language of the game is enough, there, you will see how it is done. 

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications