Earlier last month, D.C. United signed University of Maryland prospect Ethan White on a youth development contract, allowing White to bypass this month's SuperDraft, and to sign with the Black-and-Red's first team squad, with Major League Soccer paying for his contract.
It is not only White, either. The United's rivals from up the I-95 corridor are in the same process, also with a fellow Maryland Terrapin. Maryland junior midfielder Matt Kassel has signed with Red Bull New York on a youth development contract as well, thus making him ineligible for the draft.
Earlier this week, there was an article from MLSSoccer.com questioning whether this rise of youth academies will make college soccer for subpar players. With the rise of stars such as Tim Ream, Steve Zakuani and Danny Mwanga thrown into the argument, it reassures that college soccer (for the time being) will be a critical piece of developing American stars, whether they start their careers domestically or internationally. When you think about it, it seems that most youth academy prospects will be able to train in clubs' youth academies, go to college for some time and then enter the pros.
While it may actually be a benefactor for college soccer, do not expect it to be helpful for the MLS SuperDraft. If anything, it might actually cause the death of the draft.
We are already seeing evident clues from recent MLS decisions that there is less and less emphasis on the draft than ever before in its history. For instance, it is the first time ever that the league has contracted the number of draft rounds, from seven down to three. About a year ago, the league even set up a policy stating that they would pay the salary for any clubs that sign their youth academy players to the first-team roster. If you ask me, that's a very bold move to press for strong, elite youth academies across MLS.
The rising emphasis on youth academies is a win-win situation for the league altogether. As most MLS supporters are well aware, the league is always trying to target hardcore soccer fans stateside and the casual fans.
For hardcore, soccer purists, pressing for youth academies and placing emphasis on them is something that's done for numerous international soccer clubs. Many stars on clubs such as Barcelona were raised in their own youth academies. The likelihood that these academies will consequently lead to an extinction of the SuperDraft will be an additional bonus for these hardcore fans. Anything that sheds an Americanization to the sport always is something they're keen of.
For casual fans, it's a bit different, but it may also be to the benefit of hardcore fans, too. These academies will elevate the product and the quality of play of MLS clubs, especially for clubs that have a strong foundation of youth development. It will be more appealing to casual fans, and more rewarding for hardcore fans to watch the talent of MLS increase at the fastest pace it has ever grown.
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