Counting down the 5 best academies in Major League Soccer
Major League Soccer embraced the academy movement when U.S. Soccer started the Development Academy a decade ago, and its impact on the sport in this country has been profound. Its influence may even outweigh the league’s push to bring in younger, riper foreign talent instead of the superstar signings that gave the league a global identity.
The impact not necessarily felt on MLS fields. Only a handful of homegrown signings have made a real impact in the league, but that's changing as the system matures. There's considerable young talent increasingly bidding for playing time, and the pool in the academies is deeper and more promising.
Academies have produced success stories in the league, with clubs, naturally, more adept at developing talent than others. Here are MLS's five biggest academy successes:
5. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Top products: Russell Teibert, Alphonso Davies, Adam Straith, Marco Bustos
Overview: The Whitecaps possesses MLS' most extensive academy set-up, with a decade-old residency program and a network of developmental centers across Canada. This sets the Whitecaps apart, and they were churning out talent for their first team well before making the jump into Major League Soccer.
Whitecaps dot Canadian national team rosters at every level, male and female, and in the Liberia-born, Edmonton-raised Davies, the wunderkind who cracked the first team last year at 15, the club has unearthed the most anticipated player the country has produced. Bustos, 21, has embarked on an international career, and fellow homegrown signings Sam Adekugbe and Ben McKendry have taken their first steps with Canada.
Another seven academy products based in Europe or in the USL, including FC Edmonton's Straith, have been with the national team this year.
The future: G Thomas Hasal, 17
4. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Top products: Juan Agudelo, Matt Miazga, Sean Davis, Connor Lade
Overview: The Red Bulls have long possessed the most productive academy in the Northeast, both in terms of developing talent and winning trophies. The move to sign six Homegrown Players in the past year and a half -- Alex Muyl, Tyler Adams, Derrick Etienne, Brandon Adams, Arun Basuljevic and Evan Louro -- after promoting Sean Davis a year earlier is a welcome development.
The path from academy to the first team hasn't always been simple. Far more players promoted from the academy have been MLS busts than hits, and the two most revered talents to emerge didn't stick around very long. Agudelo, now with New England, was traded away in his third season, and Miazga, a 21-year-old center back with a most promising future, was sold to Chelsea soon after breaking into the first XI.
But there's a lot of talent bubbling under Jesse Marsch's group: The Red Bulls' second team's domination last season in the USL was paved with homegrown talent, and New York is one of three MLS clubs to win national titles in both U.S. Soccer Development Academy age groups
The future: M/F Ben Mines, 17