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MLS Homegrowns should shine in Florida

Article Written by J.R. Eskilson
Published: July 6, 2020

Atlanta United announced the signing of another Homegrown attacking talent Tyler Wolff on Thursday, as the franchise prepares for the first games of the MLS if Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida this month. 

Wolff is the seventh Homegrown signing in the brief history of the franchise. Atlanta United’s first season was in 2017. Of the seven Homegrown signings (in roughly three years), three will be in Florida with the first team. Two are on loan and two have been released. 

Atlanta has been one of the more successful teams in implementing players into the first team in their brief history as George Bello and George Campbell have carved out roles with the first team. 

Other MLS franchises have not been quite as successful in even finding a couple of Homegrown Players to contribute to the first team. However, that has not discouraged franchises from signing academy players to lengthy professional contracts every offseason. The league incentive of the Homegrown contract not counting against the salary cap makes an attractive option on the balance sheet. 

Even though Homegrown Players are so prevalent on the rosters, the players are not getting opportunities on the field. Of the over forty players signed to Homegrown contracts since the end of the 2019 season, only four (Tanner Tessman, George Campbell, Mauricio Pineda, and Bryce Duke) logged MLS minutes in the first few weeks of the season. 

The lack of trust in youth players shows up from week-to-week in the grind of an MLS season, but the unique situation in Florida could convince coaches to experiment with playing time given the format of three games in 10 days. 

Given the lengthy and unprecedented delay, squad depth is going to be key in Florida - even the new additions like Tyler Wolff should be given opportunities in this situation. Playing the Academy graduates might not mean much during this tournament, but it could be a big deal for the future. 

Plenty of MLS coaches have waxed poetically about the potential of the players on the roster, but few have really given opportunities to those players. 

In May, Real Salt Lake’s goalkeeper coach Todd Hoffard appeared on a podcast to discuss the team and the goalkeeper position. Homegrown talent David Ochoa was a focus of the conversation. 

“I tell David [Ochoa], you’re not in competition with Zac MacMath,” Hoffard said on the podcast. “That’s not your competition. If your endpoint is Manchester United or Real Madrid, your competition is David De Gea.” 

Ochoa has played 0 first team minutes since signing with Real Salt Lake in 2018. The 19-year-old led the RSL reserve team, Real Monarchs, to the USL Championship in 2019.

Gianluca Busio finds himself in a similar position with Sporting Kansas City. Busio’s head coach has been singing his praises for years. 

“When Busio came with us to preseason in 2018, we had a plan for him,” Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes told reporters in March. “At the end of the preseason, I had to tear it up because he had already surpassed the plan.”

Busio played 16 minutes during the first weeks of the MLS season prior to the shut down. 

Isaac Angking was once viewed as a promising prospect from the academy ranks and the New England Revolution inked him to a professional Homegrown contract in 2018. 

“Isaac [Angking] has distinguished himself with exceptional play and we believe he has the ability to become an impactful player for us at the professional level,” New England Revolution General Manager Michael Burns said in the press release announcing the signing. 

Angking, now 20 years old, has played 37 minutes over the course of the past three seasons - he was injured during the 2019 season, for the record. 

The list of players hyped on potential goes as long as the list of Homegrown signings every year, but the list of Homegrown Players who earn first team minutes is very short at the end of every season. That should change with MLS is Back Tournament. Otherwise, top players and parents should reconsider what MLS franchises are really promising with these contracts and lack of opportunities.

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