Michael Barr on The MLS Not Playing Our Younger Players.
Why MLS Teams Should Consider Playing The Kids By Mike Barr, Technical Director, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer
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 paint an austere picture for aspiring pro players in the United States, especially young American players.
- The percentage of American players, especially young American players, in Major League Soccer, has declined.
- The U.S. lags behind European countries in providing playing time to young domestic players.
- Failure to develop young players is one explanation for the current struggles of the U.S. Men’s National Team, which will miss the World Cup for the first time in over 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. Our struggles in CONCACAF may be symptoms of that.
Currently, the United States lags behind almost every European country in playing time for domestic players.
Some of the statistics attached to American players in MLS makes for some interesting reading and also disturbing revelations.
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 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
Carlisle also reports, “The numbers drop further when the number looks only at players eligible to play for the U.S. … that number shrunk to 37.7 percent from around 52 percent in 2012.”
Many MLS owners may be ignoring the needs of their young American players, perhaps in favor of pursuing trophies.
In the past, both domestically and abroad, the top U17 and U20 players have proven their ability to compete in an environment that consistently challenges them.
Another article 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.”
Consistent training by young players with the first team will bring about obvious improvement. It will also give coaches a better insight into the development and determine if these players are really ready for MLS action.
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.
Christian Pulisic states the obvious so eloquently in ThePlayers’ Tribune:
“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.”
I recognize the business aspect of the professional game and the need to keep fans in their seats by winning.
But that suggests American professional soccer fans are so unsophisticated that they wouldn’t recognize the value of developing home-grown talent for both league and U.S. National Team play. Analyst Alex Olshansky drew comparisons to European Leagues in the number of young domestic players at U22 getting playing time compared to MLS. The numbers are astounding.
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)
Earnie Stewart, Chris Albright, Jim Curtin and Richie Graham of the Philadelphia Union have embarked on a clear mission to bring in and play young homegrown American players to start this season and provide them opportunities few other MLS clubs will attempt. This may not provide a championship this year but will provide players opportunities to grow and provide great expectations to the Union fans in years to come.
At this time, the Union has Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones, Mark McKenzie and Matt Real all on the current roster under the age of 22, with the intent of giving them significant playing time. Could this be the beginning of a future filled with success for the Union and the American player?
I am becoming a believer in the process the Union has taken and hope to see other MLS clubs do the same. 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.
This Soccer Development article written by Michael Barr – Originally provided to Touchline.
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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.
Technical Director of Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, Barr is also a National Staff Coach for the United States Soccer Federation, Barr is a National Youth License Instructor, and holds the USSF “A” coaching license, the NSCAA International Premier License, the national youth license, and Scottish Football Association’s “B” license.