LAFC is coming to MLS in 2018, a chance for new owners and for the league to relaunch a new team in Los Angeles. But how should they set up the first team when the time comes?
From a soccer point of view, to better anchor LAFC to their fanbase, they should implant a strong path for young talent. Building an academy is a way to the get fans more faithful to the club as they can identify themselves with local, homegrown players. I would guess there are some Jordan Morrises in the Los Angeles area so could be nice to have the proper infrastructure to find and train them.
Designated Players may attract fans and media but strong MLS teams are built from within the U.S., through the SuperDraft and academies. Kids coming from the academy or from local schools also lure big attention by fans and local media. So what about city’s native players? Building a starting XI with seven or eight products would be not a bad thing. Not at all.
In the long run, kids coming out of the academy should play an increasingly influential role in filling LAFC’s whole roster. The only way to do it is through a methodical approach to identify local talent and via good development.
It will take a lot of time and probably even more work, but in taking the long view it is less expensive than just bringing in DPs or relying heavily on trades, where players might be less devoted to LAFC than locally produced players.
That’s another point: Homegrown players coming from within the organization are usually more loyal to club’s legacy and identity. They often feel more responsibility towards the club. There’s no guarantees, of course, but producing players in a club’s preferred style provides more control than simply hoping players from outside the youth set-up will work out. And as we’ve seen in action with FC Dallas in recent years, with few first-team spots occupied by imports, more academy prospects will have the opportunity to break through, contributing to a team’s legacy over the years.
At the end of the day, you can’t argue it: hometown boys matter. It's in LAFC's interest to develop California’s and Los Angeles’ boys. The goal is to create 11 Morrises.
On the other side of the town, the LA Galaxy are one of the frontrunners in producing Homegrown players. The issue? Very few of them get playing time with the first team. Put simply, there are two reasons behind this behavior: the homegrown guys are not good enough to make the transition in MLS or Galaxy are not patient enough to let them develop. Whichever may be the case, the final result is that their homegrown players won’t make the cut, landing somewhere else or being left on the Galaxy’s USL team indefinitely.
LAFC could and should improve on the Galaxy's model by working on homegrown players with long-term investments and allowing them the needed time to adapt themselves to MLS play. They should try this way by giving them, on and off the field, the opportunity to get onto the field to train with the big boys in order to earn the chance, eventually, to gain playing time with the first team.
Could LAFC run this way without sacrificing their competitiveness in MLS is another point. Definitely, they could, but it will take time. Even with LAFC’s academy starting over a year before the first team begins play, it’s quite unlikely there will be any Homegrown players for at least a few years after the team is in MLS. How can you remain committed to nurturing youth in this time? With a good core of players found and established at the club, slowly integrating academy products can be the first step, followed by a larger pipeline for academy players as the years go by.
That said, LAFC could try to win now by loading their roster with a lot of veterans and DP guys. The point I’m making is that it is simply not a smart idea for an MLS team to base their roster only on DPs. The Designated Player tag come in MLS with high expectations. It doesn’t mean DPs don’t help – they do, if they are good as they are expected to be – but an expansion club’s backbone come from its youth through the academy and SuperDrafts. DPs have to be the cherries on the cake, and not the cake itself. The way to make lifelong fans, create a connection to the community, and yes, create a successful soccer team is to think locally, especially in developing and signing players for the team.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!