One of the more under-publicized aspects of Major League Soccer’s player development initiatives is the fact that new rules allow MLS clubs to establish affiliated youth teams outside of their own immediate territories. It is a rule that, in theory, could lead to teams establishing satellite youth programs throughout the country.
Don’t follow? In essence, a team like the Los Angeles Galaxy could establish and pay for a youth academy system in a non-MLS market, say Tampa or Nebraska, and eventually sign players from that satellite system. At present, the only team to move toward taking advantage of this rule is Real Salt Lake, which set up a youth system in Florida (a second RSL program in Arizona falls under Real Salt Lake’s actual territory as recognized by MLS). It should be noted that sources at RSL have stated that the arrangement in Florida is being re-evaluated (it was established by former RSL coach John Ellinger).
So why have this rule in place? It allows clubs that are located in areas of this country where there is less soccer talent to supplement their player development programs.
Worried about big-money clubs like the Galaxy and the Red Bulls using this rule to start building programs all over? Don’t be. MLS has rules in place to make that less of a possibility.
MLS has established limits on the number of players that can be brought up and included into the parent club’s youth programs from these satellite clubs. The limits are based on market size, so bigger-market clubs can’t pull as many players from a satellite program as smaller-market clubs. This makes it less profitable for bigger clubs to invest in satellite programs, though most are probably more inclined to invest in their own areas to begin with.
Here is the breakdown of how many players from outside territories can be added to MLS team’s homegrown player lists and therefore signed to the senior team or signed by another MLS team:
One Player- Red Bulls, Galaxy, Chivas USA and Chicago
Two Players- FC Dallas, D.C. United, Houston, New England
Four Players- Columbus, Colorado, Kansas City, Real Salt Lake
So why would the smaller-market teams add four outside-area players to their homegrown lists when they can only sign two a year? There is also value in revenue generated when other teams come in and sign your homegrown players.
One important fact to note is that teams can’t just place programs anywhere in the United States. MLS has designated certain markets as off-limits to satellite programs, in large part to protect the interests of potential expansion teams (so don’t expect the Fire to start a program in St. Louis or the Red Bulls in Philadelphia.)
Overall, this aspect of the player development initiatives is an appealing one and it will be interesting to see which clubs take full advantage of this. So if you’re sitting in Omaha or Santa Fe or Nashville, take heart, an MLS club just might be looking to plant roots in your hometown sometime soon.
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