A New Generation of MLS Player

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 | View Comments
Borrowed from ColoradoRapids.com

Excuse me while I beat the MLS academy drum just a little more.

Two facts of note popped up yesterday while I was scanning for the news of the day; alone, they're each notable. Together, they flat out made me smile, and prompted the following realization:

MLS clubs are signing local kids with emotional ties to the team.

Yes, I know, it's not overwhelming on its face. But think about it for a second: the league is all of fifteen years old, is only just beginning to develop its own talent, and players that might have gone off to college or slipped through the cracks before are getting a chance to turn professional with the team they cheered for growing up. I can't help but go hyperbolic here.

The Rapids first academy signing, Davy Armstrong, volunteered at Mile High Stadium with his family in the early years. DC United's latest academy signing, Conor Shanosky, made comments about being a United fan growing up in the DC area. Both players represent a new generation of MLSers that were young enough when the league started to have grown up not remembering a time when their local team didn't exist; that has a major impact on a young player both watching and playing the sport in the community from his early childhood through to adolescence.

While trying my best to avoid overdoing notions of romance, it's developments like these that reinforce my belief that the league is entering a new era. The maturation of MLS may take decades, but a hurdle has been cleared; by simply being around since 1996, original MLS teams have become part of the fabric of the cities in which they exist. That doesn't always mean they've been successful filling the stands or attracting attention, but for a certain portion of young players in the area, that hardly matters. The fact that there was a team in Denver for Davey Armstrong to attach himself to as he learned and grew with the game is enough.

I'm not sure what the net effect of this will be, or if it can be measured. But my guess is that a few kids that might have dropped soccer in their early teen or high school years won't be so quick to do so now. For the American soccer culture, that's a victory; with the chaotic nature of the professional game over the past 45 years, MLS teams surviving and staying put is, as sad as it may be, a notable thing. Players turning pro after rooting for an American club their whole lives is uncharted territory.

Kids in towns across Europe dream of catching on with their local club and fulfilling a dream of playing for the team they love. In America, a similar path wasn't possible, both because there weren't teams that had been around long enough for an emotional connection to have formed and the academies that could help make it happen didn't exist. Now, neither of those is true in cities across the United States.

I'd imagine that even the expansion clubs and the recently arrived Dynamo in Houston will reap the benefits of providing a dream for local kids in short order. It doesn't take much to become the passion of a young fan when the game is all that matters. Good young players will always harbor dreams of moving to Europe's bigger stages; but if just a few of this new generation of player have dreams of playing for their hometown team, the league will be better for it.

Does MLS have a bit more romance than it did before? For me it does. That certainly can't be a bad thing for the future of the league, the sport in the US, and the young players even now kicking balls around parks in places like Denver, DC, Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, Chicago, Dallas, Columbus, etc.

A subtle thing, sure. But that doesn't make it unimportant.

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