Yesterday LA Galaxy II signed Academy prospect Eric Lopez. He's the youngest player ever to sign a USL-PRO contract and the second instance of LA Galaxy II signing someone from the Galaxy Academy. I read about this signing while perusing a report on European football academies, which created opportunities for compare and contrast.
In the case of Ajax in Amsterdam, the goal of their academy is producing three players for the first team every two years. Rosters are certainly larger for European first teams, as are the academies. Ajax has 220 players at the academy while the Galaxy operate with around 135. Ajax has 12 youth teams to the Galaxy's seven. Still, as far as producing players that to first team contracts, the Galaxy aren't too far behind Ajax's goal.
|Player Name||Year Signed|
|Bradford Jamieson IV||2014|
If the benchmark is three players make it to the first team every two years, the LA Galaxy are keeping a good pace. The main difference between MLS Academies and the main European academies is scale. While Ajax is trying to produce three players for themselves, they're also producing 30% of the players in Holland's top division.
Which is not to say the Galaxy haven't developed talent for other clubs. MLS rules protect the players in the academy for other MLS clubs, but that didn't stop Club Tijuana from signing Paul Arriola. Several Chivas USA players bailed from their academy, including Bradford Jamieson IV, as the system came under scrutiny in a law suit. Now the Chivas academy players are somewhat up for grabs after their USSDA season, though LA2 may attempt to set up their own academy ahead of the 2015-16 youth season.
What may be most intriguing is the way LA Galaxy II has changed academy systems in MLS. It isn't a U-21 or U-23 side like some MLS teams already had, the players in USL-PRO have professional contracts. Two players which may have had to wait for space on the first team roster to open up have now been signed directly to LAG II. It may seem like Eric Lopez wouldn't have been signed without LAG II, but remember how young Jack McBean was when he signed. LAG II is now the expected step between the academy and the big club.
When it comes to a prospect like Eric Lopez, the Galaxy have more control over his rights at a young age than they have had with other academy players. Jack McBean, who was on a full season loan to LAG II this season, certainly would have been a LAG II signing had it been available at the time.
Until Jaime Villarreal and Eric Lopez sign MLS Homegrown Player contracts, they get to exist in a sort of limbo. That's where MLS is gaining something in common with teams like Barcelona who operate B teams. Barcelona has 220 players in its academy like Ajax, but they also have 45 players divided between their U-19s and FC Barcelona B. The 2010 edition of Barcelona Catalan had Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi Hernandez on it.
Right now, Gyasi Zardes is the only player consistently around the first team, and he had college training after his time with the academy. That's the sort of experience the other five academy players and two LAG II academy signings are getting now. What will be interesting to see is how these players are folded into the senior team down the road.
Another huge difference between MLS and European academies is that the European academies have a mix of local products and players from around the country as well as international players (ex: Messi). MLS' system of territories protects the local prospects, but in the case of LAG and Chivas there was still competition.
LA2 will soon be the same sort of competition. What will be interesting is if LA2 can be used as an alternative to college for players from other parts of the country. Academy players would have their MLS rights protected, but certainly there's an incentive for LA2 to recruit just like the smaller local colleges.
We really don't know yet what the future of MLS academies will be, but signings like Eric Lopez certainly show what the Galaxy system would like it to be.