Ranking the Top MLS Academies
MLS Academies are already beginning to become the foundations by which clubs build upon. It seems like every year more and more homegrown players are making an impact for their club, something that local fans love to see. This is what every MLS club wants. They would much rather invest their money into their academies and produce their own players rather than spend millions during the transfer periods. Clubs are finally starting to build the infrastructure needed to compete with the best academies around the world. The MLS/USL affiliation will provide young players the opportunity to get regular competitive minutes in a professional environment, something that the college game simply can’t offer due its short season. Keeping a promising young player under your umbrella through a USL team allows for MLS clubs to groom those players the way they would like. It really is the model of the future. With that being said, here is a look at the top MLS Academies based on the quality of players produced for the first team.
5) Los Angeles Galaxy
Homegrown Players and Current Club: Tristan Bowen (AFC United), Jack McBean (LA Galaxy), Jose Villareal (LA Galaxy), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Oscar Sorto (LA Galaxy), Raul Mendiola (LA Galaxy), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy)
LA currently has 6 academy graduates contracted to the first team. Gyasi Zardes is the headliner for the Galaxy as he is one of the first names on Bruce Arena’s team sheet week in and week out. The southern California native has racked up 31 caps with the USMNT after becoming a favorite of Klinsmann’s in 2015. Several other academy graduates have seen short periods of success with the first team but Zardes has been the only one to really make a name. However, don’t expect that to be the case much longer. The Galaxy is beginning to adopt the European model of providing free housing and education for their academy members. This will surely widen their talent pool and provide new opportunity for youth players. LA Galaxy II might end up being the key component for LA as they are setting the standard for what an MLS club’s USL team should look like. Rather than signing players straight to the first team, LA is signing several academy graduates a year to Galaxy II and providing a smoother transition into the professional ranks. Galaxy fans should expect to see more and more first team regulars coming up through the ranks in the future.
4) DC United
Homegrown Players and Current Club: Bill Hamid (DC United), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Conor Shanosky (Louisville City), Ethan White (NYCFC), Michael Seaton (Hapoel Ramat Gan), Collin Martin (DC United), Jalen Robinson (DC United), Chris Durkin (DC United)
There are really two players that stand out on DC’s list of all time homegrown players, Bill Hamid and Andy Najar. Bill Hamid was United’s first ever homegrown signing back in 2009 and has since blossomed into one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, winning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014. He emerged as DC’s starting keeper in 2011 and after an impressive campaign earned his first call up to the US Men’s National Team. Hamid has since been a mainstay in United’s lineup and at just 25 years old, has many more great years to come. Andy Najar signed with the first team in 2010, winning MLS Rookie of the Year as a teenager. He is still the only homegrown player to have ever won the award. After three impressive seasons in DC, United sold him to Belgian powerhouse club Anderlecht for a reported fee of $3 million. Ethan White is another DC United Academy alumnus who has seen success during his time in MLS. Since signing with DC he has spent time with the Philadelphia Union and NYCFC as well, experiencing periods of success at all three clubs. Collin Martin, Jalen Robinson, and Chris Durkin are the homegrown players that remain contracted to DC United along with Bill Hamid. All three are still young and have shown signs of potential. It is still too early to predict the kind of impact they could end up having on the first team.
3) Seattle Sounders
Homegrown Players and Current Club: DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur), Aaron Kovar (Seattle Sounders), Sean Okoli (FC Cincinnati), Darwin Jones (Seattle Sounders), Victor Mansaray (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Since its inception in 2010, Seattle’s academy has already produced two USMNT players in DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris. That is pretty incredible considering most MLS clubs are yet to see any of their homegrowns suit up for the red, white, and blue. DeAndre Yedlin’s success with the first team was the launching pad that has since made him a regular starter with the USMNT and in the EPL. Jordan Morris finally turned pro in 2016 after having debuted with the national team before signing his first pro contract. While his play has been streaky in MLS so far, there is no doubt about the kind of talent the young forward possesses. The addition of Nicolas Lodeiro should elevate Jordan’s game to a new level. He finally has someone who can provide him the kind of service that every successful striker needs. Aaron Kovar is another talented young player that has contributed to Seattle’s first team. He was enjoying a breakout 2016 season as one of the club’s only bright spots before fracturing his clavicle last month. All of Seattle is hoping for a speedy recovery from Kovar so he can continue his development.
2) New York Red Bulls
Homegrown Players and Current Club: Giorgi Chirgadze (Unattached), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Matt Kassel (Unattached), Sacir Hot (Unattached), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Santiago Castano (Unattached), Amando Moreno (Club Tijuana), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Sean Davis (New York Red Bulls), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Brandon Allen (New York Red Bulls), Derrick Etienne Jr. (New York Red Bulls), Alex Muyl (New York Red Bulls), Mael Corboz (Wilmington Hammerheads), Scott Thomsen (Richmond Kickers), Chris Thorsheim (Unattached)
That is a long list of all time homegrown players, 16 to be exact. It used to be that NY homegrown players were not getting much of a chance with the first team, however since Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch took over, the Red Bulls have relied heavily on their homegrowns. Alex Muyl and Sean Davis have been regular contributors to the first team in 2016 and will look to have their roles continue to build as the season progresses. Connor Lade was having a great 2016 but unfortunately suffered a torn ACL over the weekend in LA that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. Juan Agudelo was the first academy graduate to make an impact after he burst onto the scene in 2010 with the US Men’s National Team. He has since moved around in MLS, tested his skills in Europe, and come back to MLS with the New England Revolution. Agudelo hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that surrounded him as a teenager but he is still just 23. Time is on his side to make a return to the USMNT. Matt Miazga is the most noteworthy academy graduate after his $5 million transfer to Premier League powerhouse Chelsea in January. Miazga was a beast for New York in their 2015 Supporter’s Shield winning side, earning a call up to the USMNT in November of last year. The Red Bulls tried to hang on to Miazga by offering him a DP contract at the end of the season, but the glamour of Europe was too much to keep him around.
1) FC Dallas
Homegrown Players and Current Club: Bryan Leyva (Dallas City FC), Ruben Luna (Rio Grande Valley Toros), Moises Hernandez (Rayo OKC), Victor Ulloa (FC Dallas), Jonathan Top (C.S.D. Comunicaciones), Richard Sanchez (Tigres UANL), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Bradlee Baladez (Unattached), London Woodberry (New England Revolution), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Danny Garcia (San Antonio FC), Coy Craft (FC Dallas), Alex Zendejas (Guadalajara), Aaron Guillen (FC Dallas)
It should be no surprise to see FC Dallas top this list. It seems like every year there is a new promising player emerging from the FC Dallas Academy. Victor Ulloa, Jesse Gonzalez, and Kellyn Acosta are currently enjoying a lot of success with Oscar Pareja’s club but who knows who will be the next young star to emerge. FC Dallas Academy graduate Alejandro Zendejas recently made headlines with his transfer to Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara, forcing him to surrender his future USMNT eligibility. While Dallas won’t be happy to have late one of their top prospects go, but they did receive a $500,000 transfer fee for the 18 year old. Some MLS fans might be surprised to see New England’s London Woodberry was once a member of the Dallas academy. Woodberry spent the 2013 season with Dallas before being released by the club. He has since rejuvenated his career during his time with the Revolution. What is really crazy to think is that FC Dallas has yet to establish its own USL franchise. Expect to see Dallas change this in the next couple of years and when they do, the model will likely look similar to the one seen in LA with Galaxy II.