Wake Forest burned its way through the ACC and the NCAA tournament in 2016. The program provided a pleasing aesthetic bang for the buck when it came to style and panache. The Demon Deacons ultimately fell an iota short of the title. Stanford held its nerve in penalties in the final, and Wake Forest was plunged into an offseason chugging along on the acidic fuel of what could’ve been.
It was an impressive accomplishment, doubly so because the Demon Deacons did it without the cornerstone of their 2016 recruiting class. That was supposed to be Isaiah Young, a firmly entrenched U.S. youth international who’s easily among the top five most enticing forward prospects in the pool in his age group.
Young, the 2015-16 boys TDS Player of the Year, committed to Wake but never showed up for preseason camp. As of the first day of training in August, the program reportedly expected him to show. When he didn’t, that began a months-long odyssey that more or less dropped Young out of the public purview. That, of course, is no longer the case. Because Young just announced his signing with German Bundesliga club Werder Bremen.
Right after Young dropped off the college soccer map, he dropped off the soccer map in general terms. It wasn’t until he rejoined New Jersey club PDA in the fall that we knew exactly where he was. In the interim, Young continued to get call-ups to Brad Friedel’s U19 MNT, where he most recently scored in a match against Miami FC in November. Young featured for PDA as recently as the Development Academy Winter Showcase in December. Over that span, Young played seven times for the PDA U18s this season and scored a mighty impressive nine goals. That, it should be noted, is three times the number of goals scored by anyone else on the team. Some of those players had the benefit of twice as many games.
And now Germany. Another promising young American sprints to the warm shelter of the Bundesliga’s youth systems.
Young is the only American currently entrenched in Werder Bremen’s development foxholes, but he certainly isn’t the only American working his way through Germany. Schalke currently has three (Nick Taitague, Weston McKennie, Haji Wright). Borussia Dortmund has two (The Cousins Pulisic). Wolfsburg has one (McKinze Gaines). Hoffenheim has two (JJ Foe Nuphaus and Russell Canouse). The list continues. The Bundesliga’s average first team age is lower than any of the five major European leagues, and Young will no doubt be staring up a well-traveled pipeline to the first team. This is, by most any measure, a positive move.
Signings of this sort are usually accompanied by a round of introspective hand-wringing back home. Mostly by MLS clubs who had a claim on a contract, if any did. That in this case is the Philadelphia Union, where Young played in the youth system during the 2013-14 Development Academy season. Young clocked a full season in the Union academy, which is the minimum requirement needed to sign a Homegrown contract. But Young left it and played under the banner of another Development Academy club thereafter.
The rules aren’t entirely explicit on this matter. Given that PDA isn’t an MLS club, and that it’s no longer mentioned on the Union’s list of academy affiliates, there could well be a statute of limitations on whether or not Young’s Homegrown status with the Union ran out after two years. I’ve been given that indication before in unrelated incidents involving other players at other clubs, but an adequate answer from the league has never been provided to me.
The official rulebook is no help, either.
A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.
So, “necessary training and retention requirements,” with special emphasis on the retention part of the deal, is probably purposely vague. But it serves to clear nothing up for our purposes here.
In any case, it ultimately didn’t matter, and it might not have mattered anyway since Young always had his sight leveled on Europe. The Union could’ve pushed six figures across the desk at Young and it still might not have moved the needle. In any case, that sort of what-if is useless now. Because Young is in Germany, and yet another promising American is using perhaps the best youth environment in the world to his advantage.