MLS’ Homegrown Initiative
Via I don’t remember where, I liked this article on MLS’ “Homegrown Initiative” by Nancy Armour:
Instead of playing dozens of games a month with various local clubs and travel teams, players who are part of MLS’ homegrown program—done in conjunction with U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy—spend more time training and play fewer, but more meaningful, games.
“For us to improve the overall quality of play and be competitive in this global sport, we had to get serious about player development,” said Todd Durbin, MLS executive vice president for player relations and competition. “There’s been an emphasis on winning. When we emphasize winning at a young age, it comes at a detriment to player development. We want players to experiment. We want players to take risks. We want them to develop technically.
“The goal is not to win on Saturday,” Durbin said. “The goal is to have a player that can be a vibrant and long-term professional.”
I absolutely agree that a focus on technique is important, and that young players should be taught to care more about how they play, now how many games they win. The hope, of course, is that the latter will be positive in the wake of the former – everyone wants to win games. But from what I’ve seen over the years, and in the two recent friendlies the USMNT played (USA 2-2 Poland and USA 0-0 Colombia), one of the biggest obstacles we have to more notches in the win column is inconsistency. There were some players – some new, some not – who just didn’t look like they knew quite what to do, or made random questionable decisions or moves, or couldn’t grasp what their role was in the more experimental formations. Starting when players are very young and teaching them a strict and dedicated adherence to honing skills and learning exactly what their abilities are seems like a very promising way to create more consistent, reliable and confident players for future USMNT and MLS squads.
It also makes sense from a financial standpoint, which in this league is always a consideration:
Individual clubs also have considerable incentive to develop their own players. “Homegrowns” aren’t counted against the salary cap. If a homegrown player goes abroad, the MLS club gets three-quarters of the transfer fee instead of the regular two-thirds.
“My goal is, and the league’s goal, it’s still a business. There is a cap,” said Frank Klopas, the Chicago Fire’s technical director. “We’re not going to be able to go out and be buying players every year and spending millions of dollars like the rest of (the world). At least not now. We have to start developing players.
Insert typical USian soccer fan’s lament about how we could totally kick the crap out of the rest of the world in this sport if more people here cared about it and gave it more respect, but I digress.