The MLS Has a Responsibility for Developing America’s Youth Players.
Please Play Our Younger Professionals.
While the times may be changing, we still have a long way to go.
As long as top young players in the US opt for major clubs in Europe or Mexico to develop and sign lucrative salaries; the MLS will have limited status in comparison to most leagues throughout the world.
I would like to see owners step up and sign top young American talent to better contracts and have them immediately begin training with the first team.
Play these young professional soccer players consistently in MLS matches and allow them to mature through play in all positions.
Use the money previously paid to legendary, older internationals to develop the American youth for the future of MLS teams and our National team.
We need to hold our professional teams accountable for their actions. Last year, I read an interesting, somewhat eye-opening article by Brandon Wiggins in Business Insider regarding the number of American players currently playing in Major League Soccer (MLS). The article, “As the US Men’s Soccer team has struggled on the field, the number of American players in MLS has declined to paint an austere picture for aspiring pro players in the United States, especially young American players.
- The U.S. lags behind European countries in providing playing time to young domestic players.
- Failure to develop young players is one explanation for our past struggles with the U.S. Men’s National Team, and why we maybe missed the World Cup for the first time in more than 30 years.
With top Under-20 and U17 players turning to Europe and playing in a very competitive environment each day, MLS offers little to our younger players wishing to gain playing time and pursue top end salaries as professional players. This year, only one MLS team, Sporting Kansas City, made significant progress advancing in CONCACAF.
America is not providing the same opprotunitites to their young players as almost every European country.
A report from Jeff Carlisle of ESPN states, “According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the percentage of minutes for U.S.-born players has fallen from 52.7 percent in 2013 to 42.2 percent last season.”
Two compelling stat from the article last March in ESPN’s MLS ‘League of Choice”:
- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the average age of players starting on opening day last season was 28.0 years.
- MLS stated that of the 91 players signed by its clubs this offseason from outside the league, the average age is 24.9.OPINION
The average age of players starting in the MLS is dropping and the league now prides itself on diversity. In MLS ranks as the most diverse pro league in North America as average age drops, it is states, “MLS’s latest batch of arrivals, the 84 players signed during the offseason, comes in as the youngest group of newcomers in league history, with an average age of 24.98 years old. The current class of Designated Players also ranks as youngest in league history, with the 62 DPs averaging 27.1 years of age.”
“The 11 new Designated Players acquired over this past offseason trend even further in that direction, averaging 25.72 years of age.”
Not enough MLS owners are being responsible for the game’s future in America.
MLS owners need to tend to the needs of developing tomorrows stars instead of being concerned with winning trophies.
Germany is once again being looked at as a mecca for player development. While the MLS does not want to lose its talent abroad, the question lingers, are we doing the best for our young? What would we focus on if we cared about winning on the world stage instead the current 2019 MLS season?
Another article published last year is MLS and young domestic players – will anything change in 2018 by Charles Bloom says, “Soccer Players – A war is quietly raging inside Major League Soccer.”
If the players develop, everyone benefits, not just the lone club.
MLS teams appear hesitant to change their philosophy as it pertains to playing U20 players and asking fans to “trust the process” (sound familiar, Sixers fans?).
Some prominent players dislike the status quo.
A while ago, Christian Pulisic expresses his frustrations eloquently in The Players’ Tribune:
“In my heart, I knew it was over when we walked off the field.”
“I think we all did. There were all of these complicated mathematical scenarios, but we knew the biggest one: We had to at least tie. Had to have that last goal. And we were grinding for it like crazy, right up until the very end. But we didn’t get it. And once we didn’t get it, and we were walking off that field — well, that’s when I pretty much knew.
“It really does frustrate me when I watch the MLS, and I see our best U17 players… not being put on the field much to actually play.”
Soccer is a business. The MLS teams must win games to keep the sports fans in America coming back and buying tickers. I recognize the business aspect of the professional game and the need to keep fans in their seats by winning but there is a responsibility to mentor today’s young professionals and protect our future in the game.
In 2018: Percentage of Minutes Played U22 Domestic Nationals
- MLS 2.0% (United States)
- Serie A 4.2% (Italy)
- EPL 4.5% (England)
- La Liga 5.1% (Spain)
- Bundesliga 7.6% (Germany)
- Ligue 9.5% (France)
We want to build on our hopes for the future. Like many others, I want current U.S. Soccer fans and future U.S. Soccer fans to never be faced with a World Cup where the United States fails to qualify again.
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Michael Barr is a motivated, teacher and soccer coach with nationally recognized expertise and a thirty year history in working with top-level soccer players, instructing youth coaches and speaking to numerous groups about player development.