Written by The 91st

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The MLS season. It is here.

After a massively disappointing start to 2016 via a CONCACAF Champions League bloodbath at the hands of Liga MX, MLS plunges headlong into the blessed retreat of the 2016 season this weekend. No expansion teams, no excuses. Or, you know, something.

We here at TopDrawerSoccer pay close attention to the young guns, so our MLS preview is a mite different than the rest. In addition to brief breakdowns, we’ll run you through the top U21 players, unsigned Homegrowns, rookies and more for every MLS team. Some need the reinforcement more than others.

Without any more hemming and hawing, let’s dive in.

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Written by Will Parchman

tottz

The modern international soccer agent is something like a brutally self-confident hype man mixed with a sly used car salesman. His goods have been re-purposed before, but he knows their utility, maybe too well. All this leads to one hell of a sales pitch at the negotiating table.

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Written by Will Parchman

usl

By almost any measurement, Dave Romney backed into professional soccer via a muddled road map indistinguishable to anyone else.

After graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2014, Romney was out of soccer entirely until finding his way to the LA Galaxy II roster in time for the 2015 season. Romney impressed for the Galaxy’s USL side, so much so that, on July 25, 2015 he became something of a novelty in the annals of the recent link between USL and MLS.

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Written by Will Parchman

gyan

When Xi Jinping ascended to the Chinese presidency in 2012, he essentially became the nation’s first soccer president. He almost immediately issued mandates for the national soccer initiative, establishing soccer programming in thousands of schools and setting an eventual baseline that included winning a World Cup.

It looked funky as hell at the time, and there’s no guarantee this makes this national team any better. But at least on a club level, things are crystallizing at a rate few thought possible. China is stepping into a decisively prominent role in global soccer, and no one is quite sure what it means yet.

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Written by Will Parchman

This is just silly good.

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Written by Will Parchman

yolo

Robert Earnshaw’s been at this soccer thing for a minute. As of today, that’s all over. Earnshaw is retiring.

The Welshman began his career with a six-year stint with Cardiff, but when he left he turned into the definition of a journeyman. There were a staggering 11 clubs in 10 years, including six in the UK, one in Israel for 10 games (!), and three in MLS. He spent the final year of his career with the Whitecaps, and he’ll now be helping with the academy and the strikers.

Earnshaw’s always been a serviceable forward for the right price, but he managed just 18 total goals in the last five years of his career. And, importantly, he produced the single greatest free kick of all time.

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Written by Will Parchman

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The 2015 season snapped shut on the Colorado Rapids like a rabid dog closing his jaws around a ragged piece of dumpster meat.

MLS titled its final regular season match day ‘Decision Day,’ aligning every Eastern Conference and Western Conference game to go off at the same time. In practice, this created a decidedly intriguing finale as teams flipped into and out of playoff seeds throughout the course of the day.

One team that had nothing to decide was Colorado. The Rapids were picking crumbs off the floor of the Western Conference basement before the day began, and a limp 4-1 loss to eventual champion Portland on Oct. 26 brought their season to a merciful conclusion. The poor dog had been run over.

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Written by Will Parchman

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The fanfare surrounding Jordan Morris’s decision to sign with the Sounders was visible from space (probably).

Think what you will of how it was handled, but the Morris deal kicked the Homegrown initiative into a new stratosphere. Oh, young players will still sign (at times) anonymously, and the flame-out rate will still hover somewhere between 60-70 percent, but Morris gave it more cachet than it’s ever had. If you don’t think young players find value in the spectacle, visit a couple high school gyms on college football signing day and see what happens.

Today, we split our focus to the past, present and future. We’ll look at the top five Homegrown prospects, and our caveat is they can’t have yet played for the first team. And then we’ll move to the top five of all time, a list on which I have omitted Morris for the sake of our sanity.

Here we go.

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Written by Will Parchman

jmo

Jordan Morris cleared the final step to the showroom floor at Seattle’s The Ninety and the flashbulbs popped and crackled like fireworks. Flanked by Adrian Hanauer, Garth Lagerwey, Sigi Schmid and Chris Henderson – the club’s most visible and influential decision makers in matters of player personnel – Morris sheepishly walked to the middle seat of the dais.

Morris, wearing a blazer and a button-down shirt and facing a packed room of about 100 people, settled into his seat and readied to hear the announcement he’d been waiting to hear for years. The kid who’d been in the stands for Seattle’s first ever MLS game in 2009 almost couldn’t believe he was here at all.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Morris said.

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Written by Will Parchman

arena

There was confetti on the ground and a broken man walked over it all to claim his trophy and none of us knew.

We had learned Landon Donovan was stepping away from soccer before the 2012 postseason began. He announced his body had told him to take a break, that he would have to push through the final games of the season, that eight years of anything is a long time. It didn’t seem to matter. Donovan had two goals and three assists in five postseason games, spearheaded another MLS Cup run and then disappeared to the sanded, broken cobbles of Cambodia.

The tandem story line running parallel to Donovan’s was David Beckham’s departure from MLS after a tumultuous half decade. Beckham had been productive in his time in the league, but his global reputation allowed him to float through periods of on-field disenchantment. Beckham stalked through his final years in LA more than he ran.

But he was Beckham. The hair, the pirate mustache, the DP rule his tactical largesse created, the Posh Spice, the everything. Your average Manc (or Parisian, or Belorussian) would no doubt give Beckham the lion’s share of the credit – or as much as can be bestowed on one man – for the team’s run in his latter years. As we’ve established… Beckham.

Ah, but the quieter brother is often the more dangerous one.

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