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By AVI CREDITOR
For all the attention that Designated Players get in Major League Soccer, Homegrown Players are beginning to do their part in making an impact on the pitch. All signs point to a continued influence by these young, up-and-coming local products.
2010 was a banner year for Homegrown Players. Andy Najar went from high school standout to MLS Rookie of the Year in a matter of months. Juan Agudelo emerged in the postseason as an attacking threat and parlayed that into success with the U.S. senior national team. The league's first Homegrown Player also became the first one to be traded, as U.S. U-20 striker Tristan Bowen scored two goals last season for the Los Angeles Galaxy before being shipped to fellow Home Depot Center tennant Chivas USA.
Five teams (Seattle, Portland, Columbus, San Jose, Real Salt Lake) have yet to sign a Homegrown Player, but the growing impact of these young players, the improved quality of the league's academies and the roster and financial advantages to signing them make it only a matter of time before they become a league-wide commodity.
Here's a breakdown of the current Homegrown players in MLS and who should be expected to contribute in 2011:
F Tristan Bowen, MF Gerson Mayen (CHV); GK Bill Hamid, MF Andy Najar (DC); F Ruben Luna (FCD); MF Francisco Navas Cobo (HOU); F Juan Agudelo (NY); D Doneil Henry (TFC).
Najar and Agudelo are the success stories the league will hang its hat on for years. From high school standout to an MLS threat who makes even the top fullbacks look foolish, Najar's stock seems like it has no ceiling. The same can be said for Agudelo, who was nothing but a solid prospect a year ago. Now (when healthy) he'll be starting next to Thierry Henry in a key role for a team with title aspirations.
Luna, Navas Cobo and Mayen should all be key components of their respective teams' benches in 2011.
Bowen played well in spurts for Los Angeles last season before being traded to Chivas, where he'll compete for minutes as a complement to Justin Braun.
Hamid, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and is nearing his return, got time as a starter for D.C. last season and figures to be the team's keeper of the present and future.
As for Henry, a Canadian U-20 international, he could be pressed into immediate playing time if Adrian Cann's contract situation doesn't get resolved before the season begins. Either way, he'll play a part for a young TFC side this season.
MF Conor Shanosky, D Ethan White (DC); D Moises Hernandez, MF Bryan Leyva, MF Victor Ulloa (FCD); GK Tyler Deric (HOU); GK Jon Kempin (KC); MF Zach Pfeffer (PHI).
Defenders White and Hernandez are the two from this group most likely to contribute this season. White would have been a first-round pick in January's SuperDraft had he not been signed by D.C., a team that was defensively one of the worst in the league in 2010.
Considering FC Dallas' schedule now includes MLS, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League matches, Hernandez, a U.S. U-20 defender, could get his chance to crack the lineup.
Leyva and Ulloa find themselves in the same boat as Hernandez, except there's more of a logjam at their positions and they're not as far along in their professional development.
Deric and Kempin both enter this year as backups, with the Houston keeper more likely to be thrust into action in the event of an injury to the team's starter. Kempin, a U.S. youth keeper, will fight for minutes behind Jimmy Nielsen with Erik Kronberg.
MF Victor Pineda (CHI); MF Davy Armstrong (COL); MF Bryan de la Fuente, D Cesar Zamora (CHV); GK Richard Sanchez, F Jon Top (FCD); F Alex Dixon, MF Josue Soto (HOU); D Kevin Ellis (KC); F Jack McBean (LA); F Diego Fagundez (NE); F Giorgi Chirgadze, D Sacir Hot, MF Matt Kassel (NY); MF Nicholas Lindsay (TFC); MF Philippe Davies (VAN).
Lindsay would have been a sure bet to contribute to TFC this season if not for suffering serious knee injuries in a snowmobile accident in January that cost him the entire 2011 campaign. The speedy winger was a bright spot toward the end of last season.
Chirgadze is a year removed from hip surgery and on the comeback trail, but given the Red Bulls' current roster, there's no need to rush him into action.
As for those who are fit:
De la Fuente, Zamora and Hot are all in the U.S. Under-20 player pool, while McBean was a part of the CONCACAF championship-winning U.S. U-17 side. Pineda and Top were called into the U.S. U-18s February camp. The potential is there for all of them, but contributing in 2011 might be a stretch.
An interesting one to keep an eye on this summer is Sanchez, a goalkeeper for Mexico's U-17 team. He'll be under the spotlight as Mexico hosts the U-17 World Cup.
Kassel, Dixon and Soto were each signed out of college this past winter and are more physically ready for the rigors of the professional game than some of their counterparts, though all three will likely spend the season with their respective reserve units.
Do you see Homegrown Players having even more of an impact in 2011? Which Homegrown Player(s) do you see breaking out this season? Which prospect are you most excited about?
Share your thoughts below.