Homegrown Players: Making Sense of MLS

If City fans had a hard time adjusting to the whole five substitute thing in USL Pro, they have no idea what they’re getting into with Major League Soccer. For today, I want to take a look at the Homegrown Player (HGP) rules and how they impact Orlando City.

HGP is one of the various designations and labels applied to different players in MLS. It’s a newer designation, but one that’s become increasingly influential for MLS squads.

Started in 2008, it allows MLS teams to ‘claim’ and sign players who have resided in the club’s geographical location and have spent at least a year in the club’s youth development program or academy. This means the player does not become eligible for the MLS Superdraft or allocation order, as would be the case with any other player.

Tommy Redding represents the USA U-17 squad.
Tommy Redding represents the USA U-17 squad.

This is hugely important. As many may know, MLS does not share the free-market spirit of many of the other premier leagues in the world. Except when they do, of course (See Bradley, Dempsey, Beckham, et al.). Still, in the single-entity league that is MLS, it doesn’t simply come down to a bidding war between teams for the best young talent.

Right now, we’re seeing the first generation of Homegrown Players really come into their own, both for the league and the U.S. National Team. The bell cow of the group is, of course, Seattle Sounders FC Academy product DeAndre Yedlin. After a breakout World Cup, he was transferred to EPL power Tottenham in a multi-million dollar deal. While Yedlin is now bordering on a household name, more serious fans will surely recognize other HGPs like Gyasi Zardes, Wil Trapp, Bill Hamid, and Diego Fagundez, just to name a few.

So what is Orlando doing to keep up in the increasingly important HGP arms race? Enter Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner. City currently only have nine players under contract and the two young American defenders represent two of them. At 17 and 18 years old, respectively, both youngsters have come up through the USMNT youth teams and look to have bright futures ahead of them.

DeAndreYedlin1-JaneG-PhotographyIn the case of Turner, he really stood out to me this season as a fullback with a great deal of potential. He’ll look to add some muscle in this extended off-season, but I fully expect him to make a push to start in MLS this year. He’s a prototypical attacking fullback who reminded me of Yedlin on multiple occasions this year. While he may not have quite the game breaking speed, I think his crosses are just as well placed and his defensive instincts may well be better than Yedlin’s were at 18.

Our other HGP is center back Tommy Redding, who also managed to appear in 15 matches this season at the ripe old age of 17. Central defenders typically take longer to develop than any other position on the pitch, so I heartily doubt that Redding will earn too many starts this season. Expect CB to be a major target for City in the MLS Expansion Draft this winter. That said, Redding didn’t show anything this year to suggest he won’t be ready if called upon.

So, with Turner and Redding, we already have two extremely talented HGPs signed to the roster. That’s great news. However, we’ve got some serious catching up to do as well. Without having the resources of MLS clubs over these past years, it’s been difficult/borderline impossible for City to attract the top youth talent, even under the excellent leadership of Technical Director Steve Rammel. Players like Yedlin, Shipp, and countless others are in their mid-20s now, entering their primes, and becoming major contributors and leaders on their MLS squads.

It will be at least three to five years before Orlando is able to start churning out that type of player on a consistent basis. And that, of course, assumes that the team leadership takes all the right steps in building up a successful academy and youth development system, which is by no means a given.

So, let’s appreciate what contributions we can get out of Redding and Turner this year, but let’s also not forget how essential it is for Orlando City as a club to build and develop our youth academy. We’ll need players like Zardes and Yedlin to start coming through the youth ranks on a regular basis for us to start consistently competing with the MLS powers.

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