The news that Los Angeles Football Club will be launching their youth academy with a U-12 team beginning later this year is good news on a number of fronts. First and foremost, the club is ticking off one of the boxes of building an organization one piece at a time.
But it's obviously much more than that. LAFC have the "luxury" of waiting what looks to be three and a half years to begin play in MLS, and they could choose to do a lot (or a little) in that time. I'm not aware there is an MLS mandate for them to found an academy before the first team starts playing -- NYCFC, who had a much shorter time to launch their academy, still doesn't exactly have a proper "NYCFC" academy, instead using an affiliation with a local league as a placeholder of sorts. It is nothing like having a devoted academy within the organization, truth be told.
I see two primary motivations for an MLS academy. The first is obvious, to have a player or two every year or two come through the system and sign a professional contract. Ideally, that contract is with the first team within the organization, but even players who go pro elsewhere burnish the reputation for the academy over time.
And while the majority of academy players don't ultimately turn pro, a secondary hope is that a fair number of players play collegiately as well. Some of those players will hone their games in college and perhaps turn pro later, maybe as a Homegrown signing.
The second primary motivation for an MLS academy is more latent: It's to raise generations of fans. Sure, you don't want to turn the academy program into a day camp fun time for kids to enter and then magically come out fans of the parent club, but if an organization is well run and nurtures the academy players well, then it stands to reason a great proportion of those players, even those who don't have a future playing soccer, will end up thinking of the club as theirs.
Again, it's a latent goal, but for a brand new team, competing with not only the star-studded clubs all over Europe and Latin America but another MLS team in the same area, building ties with kids through academy participation for some will pay dividends over time, assuming the organization is well run.
Unless the new academy scales up quickly by 2018, I wouldn't expect any Homegrown signings the first couple of seasons. But by laying the groundwork, establishing a presence in the local youth soccer scene early in order to attract top talent, starting with the youngest rung in the Development Academy and building up the age ranks over time, the youth development path is being established, still a couple years before the first team plays in MLS. It's a step that shows the long time between announcing the club and playing in MLS could set the organization up for success in relatively short order. Obviously only time will tell, but it's a promising sign for the moment.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!