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Top recruits continue to join MLS benches

Article Written by J.R. Eskilson
Published: January 12, 2018

The landscape of college soccer recruiting has not changed much in the last five years. Despite the increased exposure to signings and the growth of MLS Academies, many of the top recruits are following the same path as those players from the 2013 class. However, that path has not been beneficial to the top ranked recruits in the past. 

Using the TopDrawerSoccer Top 150 Player Ranking as a guide, seven of the top 10 players from the class of 2013 bypassed college and went directly to the professional realm. Diego Fagundez, Zachary Pfeffer, and Jack McBean were the top three players in that class, respectively. They all signed Homegrown deals before they graduated from high school. 

The path to prevalence for the trio has been trying from the start. Fagundez quickly established himself as a regular with MLS franchise New England Revolution, but he has not progressed past that level. Pfeffer decided to walk away from soccer in 2017 after a rocky go with the Union and a few loan spells. McBean had a tumultuous career with LA Galaxy and was traded to the Colorado Rapids in December, as he searches for a fresh start in the game.

The five-year return on the top players from the 2013 class, perhaps, should have been a warning for the top of the 2018 class. However, it was a warning that not many players heeded. 

Many players from the 2018 class are following a similar route through MLS. Five of the top six players in this class are going to the isolated domestic league in hopes of bucking the trend of being neglected on the bench for the first five years of their careers. 

The No. 1 player in the 2018 class, Josh Sargent, is following a different path as he will be officially joining German club Werder Bremen when he turns 18 years old on February 20.

Europe or going abroad is the road less traveled though. The rest of the players in the top six in the 2018 class are heading to the local franchise for their first professional deals. 

Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), and Christopher Goslin (Atlanta United) are all hoping to be the new wave of players to jump from academy to the pros and develop into full international players even though history suggests that’s a very difficult path to take. 

Although the increase in quantity has been loudly broadcast as a point of emphasis for the growth of MLS academies. The return from the highly touted groups has been less than stellar over the last five years. 

From the 2013 class, Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola are clearly the success stories from the group. Acosta and Arriola look to be in the plans for the Men’s National Team. Marco Delgado, Russell Canouse, and Jordan Allen could also fall into that category, but haven’t quite made that jump from MLS regular to something more endearing. Allen holds another distinction as well as one of the last top four ranked players to go to the college game before joining the professional route. Allen played for University of Virginia for a season before signing a binding deal with MLS franchise Real Salt Lake. Much of the rest of the class has not left an impact at the professional level.

The 2013 class was the continuation of the trend as MLS academies became more active in signing players before they graduated from high school. Over the last five years, many of the top 10 ranked players have gone directly to the professional realm with this 2018 graduating class expected to have all 10 signing professional deals in the next year. The trend suggests that many of the top 25 players in each class to come will be signed to a professional deal before he graduates from high school as MLS franchises add reserve teams and the ability to sign players to small contracts with little consequence to the club if the player doesn’t pan out. 

While the MLS celebrates the growth and investment in the academy structure, the actual success of those players at the professional realm has been close to non-existent. The league is the worst for playing young domestic players.

Each year with signing day approaching, college coaches bemoan the direction of the game in the U.S. Top players bypass college (for legitimate reasons) to go to the professional route, but they just end up spending the first few years of their careers on the bench. 

The trend is not going to stop, but it should be a more cautionary tale than a celebration of another addition to the stable of players stuck on Homegrown contracts with no path to meaningful minutes in the future. 

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