There's No Place for Homegrowns: Fire's Dev System Questioned

Douglas C. Pizac-USA Today Sport

There's no place for Chicago Homegrowns? There's no place for Chicago Homegrowns.

Now that the international transfer window has closed for the Chicago Fire and Major League Soccer, the odds of the club signing a Homegrown Player have gone up. There could be a couple of trades to come but the front office should be able to juggle any trades and fit in a new Homegrown signing in as well. Chicago currently has two Homegrown Players: Kellen Gulley and Victor Pineda.

Pineda became the first Chicago Fire Homegrown Player when he was signed on August 17, 2010. Kellen Gulley signed with the Chicago Fire almost two years ago to the date on August 11, 2011. A signing this week would re-establish what was becoming an annual tradition.

When I looked at Homegrown Players in July of 2011 (skip down to item 6), the program was just beginning to see some significant contributions. A total of 15 players had received playing time in regular season games, a couple were getting regular playing time, and 37 players signed to Homegrown contracts were on MLS rosters.

Vast Development in Homegrowns

As of today, over 50 players have received some MLS Regular Season playing time. Homegrown players have scored 47 goals, contributed 61 assists, and have put together over 47,000 minutes of regular season playing time. All of this discounts Homegrown players stats after being moved or resigned (see Juan Agudelo with Chivas USA/New England Revolution and Tristan Bowen with Chivas USA for example).

# Name Pos Team G A MINS
1 Bill Hamid GK DC - - 6639
2 Andy Najar* M DC 10 11 6550
3 Ashtone Morgan D TFC 0 8 4336
4 Ethan White D DC 1 0 2765
5 Diego Fagundez F NEG 11 7 2536
6 Doneil Henry D TFC 1 2 2484
7 Connor Lade D NYRB 0 3 2253
8 Russell Teibert M VAN 2 8 1887
9 Juan Agudelo* F NYRB 6 2 1557
10 DeAndre Yedlin D SEA 1 1 1540
11 Shane O'Neill D COL 0 0 1390
12 Scott Caldwell M NEG 0 1 1309
13 Gyasi Zardes F LAG 3 0 1187
14 Jose Villarreal M LAG 3 2 916
15 Tristan Bowen* F LAG 2 2 878
16 Ben Speas F CLB 1 1 855
17 Chad Barson D CLB 0 0 825
18 Marco Delgado M CHV 0 0 814
19 Matt Stinson* M TFC 0 2 764
20 Ruben Luna* F FCD 2 1 663
21 Carlos Salcedo D RSL 0 0 631
22 Jack McBean F LAG 2 2 515
23 Will Trapp M CLB 0 1 450
24 Bryan Leyva* M FCD 0 0 446
25 Matt Lampson GK CLB - - 410
26 London Woodberry D FCD 0 0 363
27 Karl Ouimette D MTL 0 0 349
28 Tyler Deric GK HOU - - 270
29 Nicholas Lindsay* M TFC 0 3 240
30 Alex Dixon M HOU 1 0 217
31 Conor Shanosky M-D DC 0 0 206
32 Brent Richards F PDX 0 0 201
33 Oscar Cordon* M TFC 0 0 144
34 Kevin Ellis D SKC 0 0 113
35 Kellyn Acosta D/M FCD 0 0 107
36 Jonathan Top F FCD 1 1 101
37 Maxim Tissot D MTL 0 1 92
38 Collin Martin D DC 0 1 90
39 Matt Kassel* D-M NYRB 0 0 82
40 Keith Makubuya* F TFC 0 0 55
41 Wandrille Lefevre M MTL 0 1 36
42 Bradlee Baladez F FCD 0 0 27
43 Cristhian Hernandez F PHI 0 0 26
44 Jimmy McLaughlin M PHI 0 0 17
45 Caleb Clarke F VAN 0 0 15
46 Michael Seaton F DC 0 0 14
47 Victor Ulloa M FCD 0 0 9
48 Bryan de la Fuente* M CHV 0 0 5
49 Davy Armstrong M COL 0 0 4
50 Amando Moreno F NYRB 0 0 2
51 Aaron Horton F CLB 0 0 1
52 Francisco Navas Cobo* M HOU 0 0 1
53 Victor Pineda M CHI 0 0 0
54 Kellen Gulley F CHI 0 0 0
55 Cesar Zamora* M CHV 0 0 0
56 Caleb Calvert F CHV 0 0 0
57 Josh Janniere* M COL 0 0 0
58 Dillon Serna M COL 0 0 0
59 Moises Hernandez D/M FCD 0 0 0
60 Danny Garcia M FCD 0 0 0
61 Richard Sanchez GK FCD - - 0
62 Jesse Gonzalez GK FCD - - 0
63 Josue Soto* M HOU 0 0 0
64 Bryan Salazar F HOU 0 0 0
65 Oscar Sorto M LAG 0 0 0
66 Zakaria Messoudi M MTL 0 0 0
67 Maxime Crepeau GK MTL - - 0
68 Giorgi Chirgadze* F NYRB 0 0 0
69 Sacir Hot* D NYRB 0 0 0
70 Santiago Castano GK NYRB - - 0
71 Matt Miazga D NYRB 0 0 0
72 Steven Evans M PDX 0 0 0
73 Donny Toia* F RSL 0 0 0
74 Nico Muniz* M RSL 0 0 0
75 Lalo Fernandez GK RSL - - 0
76 Benji Lopez F RSL 0 0 0
77 Jon Kempin GK SKC - - 0
78 Erik Palmer-Brown D SKC 0 0 0
79 Quillan Roberts GK TFC - - 0
80 Manny Aparicio M TFC 0 0 0
81 Phillipe Davies* M VAN 0 0 0
82 Brian Sylvestre* GK VAN - - 0
83 Bryce Alderson M VAN 0 0 0
TOTAL 47 61 47387

*designates an inactive player or player no longer with original club

The growth of Home Grown player involvement has been quite dramatic. Seattle's DeAndre Yedlin made the All-Star team this year and New York Red Bull's Agudelo made it in 2011. This past off-season, D.C. United's Andy Najar became the first homegrown player to merit a transfer fee when he was moved Belgium's Anderlecht. Agudelo might have been traded away from New York Red Bulls but he is only one year away from his playing time with New York and he will be off to Stoke City on January 1st.

This past weekend, you could have filled out an entire gameday roster with Homegrown Players that saw time:

Player Team POS MINS
Matt Lampson CLB GK 90
Bill Hamid DC GK 90
Chad Barson CLB D 90
Kellyn Acosta FCD D 90
Carlos Salcedo RSL D 90
Conor Shanosky DC D 90
Ethan White DC D 90
Doneil Henry TFC D 90
Ashtone Morgan TFC D 90
DeAndre Yedlin SEA D 90
Marco Delgado CHV D 90
Shane O'Neill COL D 90
Scott Caldwell NE M 90
Will Trapp CLB M 90
Collin Martin DC M 76
Russell Teibert VAN M 90
Michael Seaton DC F 14
Diego Fagundez NE F 33
Gyasi Zardes LAG F 89

The Vancouver Whitecaps' Homegrown Russell Teibert is tied for 2nd in the league in assists this year with 8. That matches designated players Robbie Keane and Diego Valeri. Eight assists is one more than David Ferreira and Javier Morales. Eight assists is two more than Federico Higuain, Graham Zusi, Joao Plata, Joel Lindpere, and Landon Donovan. New England's Homegrown Diego Fagundez is tied for 9th in the league in goals with 7. Seven goals puts him along side with Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, Ryan Johnson, Obafemi Martins, Chris Wondolowski, Kenny Miller, Fabian Espindola, and Kei Kamara. It's great to see MLS developed players right there with some of the biggest names in the league and even the world.

Overall Numbers and Fire's Outlook

Team G A # MINS MINPP
DC 11 12 6 16,264 2,711
NE 11 8 2 3,845 1,923
SEA 1 1 1 1,540 1,540
TFC 1 15 8 8,023 1,003
LAG 10 6 5 3,496 699
NYRB 6 5 8 3,894 487
CLB 1 2 5 2,541 508
VAN 2 8 5 1,902 380
COL 0 0 4 1,304 326
CHV 0 0 4 819 205
FCD 3 2 11 1,716 156
RSL 0 0 5 631 126
PDX 0 0 2 201 101
HOU 1 0 5 488 98
MTL 0 2 5 477 95
SKC 0 0 3 113 38
PHI 0 0 2 43 22
CHI 0 0 2 0 0
SJ - - 0 - -

Back in Chicago, the Fire faithful are still waiting to see the first MLS regular season minutes played by a homegrown product. The club is in a very unique position that way. Only the San Jose Earthquakes with no Homegrown Players in their history, have still not played a Homegrown player yet.

Is this as devastating as some of the numbers on Chicago's international players or their designated players? Well, the success stories of homegrown players are rather limited to a handful of individuals. For every Fagundez, Teibert, Agudelo, and Yedlin, there are several homegrown players that don't receive any playing time and have even been released by their club. In addition, the success of the best homegrown players can't be denied but their 'Homegrownness' can be.

Home Away From Home

Andy Najar was born in Choluteca, Honduras and his family moved to Virginia when he was 13. Diego Fagundez was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and moved here when he was 5. Juan Agudelo was born in Manizales, Colombia and moved to New Jersey when his family was 7. Najar, Fagundez, and Agudelo turned pro not too long after they joined their MLS' team academy. How much each Eastern Conference rival deserves for the development of each player can be called into question. Each player represents a certain amount of 'dumb luck'.

Why Doesn't Victor Pineda Play?

Of the Fire's two homegrown players, Victor Pineda is clearly the more talented player. He is regularly called up by the US Youth National Teams and receives playing time there. Gulley is on loan to the North American Soccer League's Atlanta Silverbacks and has received little playing time down in Georgia. Fire team personnel have often said Pineda would have already made his debut if it weren't for these frequent USYNT call-ups and other bumps in Pineda's progress. For example, Pineda suffered an injury earlier this year that kept him out for a couple of months.

Pineda has been back from national duty and is injury free now. Still no playing time.

Age of Homegrown Players

# Name Pos Team Signed Birthday
1 Tyler Deric GK HOU 2/27/2009 8/30/1988
2 Alex Dixon M HOU 1/19/2011 1/3/1989
3 Josue Soto* M HOU 1/19/2011 1/3/1989
4 Matt Lampson GK CLB 12/15/2011 9/6/1989
5 Matt Kassel* D-M NYRB 1/25/2011 10/30/1989
6 Wandrille Lefevre M MTL 2/26/2013 12/17/1989
7 Connor Lade D NYRB 12/5/2011 3/28/1990
8 Brent Richards F PDX 1/4/2012 5/20/1990
9 Giorgi Chirgadze* F NYRB 9/11/2009 11/23/1990
10 Bill Hamid GK DC 9/2/2009 11/25/1990
11 Phillipe Davies* M VAN 11/26/2010 12/12/1990
12 Ethan White D DC 12/14/2010 1/1/1991
13 Ben Speas F CLB 1/11/2012 1/17/1991
14 Tristan Bowen* F LAG 11/12/2008 1/31/1991
15 Ashtone Morgan D TFC 3/17/2011 2/9/1991
16 Chad Barson D CLB 1/10/2013 2/25/1991
17 Scott Caldwell M NEG 12/21/2012 3/15/1991
18 Cesar Zamora* M CHV 5/28/2009 5/27/1991
19 London Woodberry D FCD 1/9/2013 5/28/1991
20 Sacir Hot* D NYRB 1/31/2011 6/10/1991
21 Kevin Ellis D SKC 2/18/2011 6/30/1991
22 Bradlee Baladez F FCD 12/19/2012 8/8/1991
23 Gyasi Zardes F LAG 12/20/2012 9/2/1991
24 Steven Evans M PDX 1/8/2013 9/19/1991
25 Davy Armstrong M COL 8/16/2010 11/3/1991
26 Francisco Navas Cobo* M HOU 3/5/2010 11/17/1991
27 Conor Shanosky M-D DC 8/13/2010 12/13/1991
28 Ruben Luna* F FCD 7/30/2010 2/10/1992
29 Victor Ulloa M FCD 7/30/2010 3/4/1992
30 Moises Hernandez D/M FCD 7/30/2010 3/5/1992
31 Maxim Tissot D MTL 2/26/2013 4/13/1992
32 Aaron Horton F CLB 5/17/2011 5/9/1992
33 Donny Toia* F RSL 3/24/2011 5/28/1992
34 Karl Ouimette D MTL 6/5/2012 6/18/1992
35 Bryan de la Fuente* M CHV 8/25/2010 7/1/1992
36 Bryan Leyva* M FCD 9/16/2009 8/2/1992
37 Nicholas Lindsay* M TFC 9/15/2010 9/3/1992
38 Matt Stinson* M TFC 3/17/2011 9/9/1992
39 Nico Muniz* M RSL 9/15/2011 10/18/1992
40 Quillan Roberts GK TFC 4/10/2012 10/18/1992
41 Josh Janniere* M COL 3/30/2011 11/4/1992
42 Juan Agudelo* F NYRB 3/26/2010 11/23/1992
43 Lalo Fernandez GK RSL 2/24/2012 12/16/1992
44 Brian Sylvestre* GK VAN 3/15/2011 12/19/1992
45 Russell Teibert M VAN 3/17/2011 12/22/1992
46 Will Trapp M CLB 12/13/2012 1/15/1993
47 Oscar Cordon* M TFC 3/17/2011 1/18/1993
48 Jonathan Top F FCD 1/12/2011 1/26/1993
49 Keith Makubuya* F TFC 3/17/2011 1/26/1993
50 Andy Najar* M DC 3/22/2010 3/6/1993
51 Victor Pineda M CHI 8/17/2010 3/15/1993
52 Jon Kempin GK SKC 8/31/2010 4/8/1993
53 Doneil Henry D TFC 8/26/2010 4/20/1993
54 Caleb Clarke F VAN 4/24/2012 6/23/1993
55 Jimmy McLaughlin M PHI 12/12/2011 6/30/1993
56 DeAndre Yedlin D SEA 1/11/2013 7/19/1993
57 Shane O'Neill D COL 6/19/2012 9/2/1993
58 Jose Villarreal M LAG 12/22/2011 9/10/1993
59 Carlos Salcedo D RSL 1/5/2013 9/29/1993
60 Danny Garcia M FCD 6/18/2013 10/14/1993
61 Cristhian Hernandez F PHI 3/5/2012 10/30/1993
62 Zakaria Messoudi M MTL 6/4/2013 10/30/1993
63 Bryce Alderson M VAN 11/17/2011 2/5/1994
64 Dillon Serna M COL 1/14/2013 3/25/1994
65 Richard Sanchez GK FCD 2/18/2011 4/5/1994
66 Kellen Gulley F CHI 8/11/2011 4/6/1994
67 Maxime Crepeau GK MTL 3/15/2013 5/11/1994
68 Oscar Sorto M LAG 12/11/2012 8/8/1994
69 Bryan Salazar F HOU 2/13/2013 10/17/1994
70 Collin Martin D DC 7/10/2013 11/9/1994
71 Diego Fagundez F NEG 11/25/2010 2/14/1995
72 Benji Lopez F RSL 7/15/2013 2/16/1995
73 Santiago Castano GK NYRB 12/11/2012 4/14/1995
74 Marco Delgado M CHV 4/3/2012 5/16/1995
75 Jesse Gonzalez GK FCD 3/21/2013 5/25/1995
76 Matt Miazga D NYRB 5/30/2013 7/19/1995
77 Kellyn Acosta D/M FCD 7/12/2012 7/24/1995
78 Amando Moreno F NYRB 12/11/2012 9/10/1995
79 Manny Aparicio M TFC 8/8/2013 9/17/1995
80 Jack McBean F LAG 1/31/2011 12/15/1995
81 Michael Seaton F DC 1/14/2013 5/1/1996
82 Caleb Calvert F CHV 7/5/2013 10/22/1996
83 Erik Palmer-Brown D SKC 8/2/2013 4/24/1997

One of my major qualms with Pineda's situation is that he has been here for a long time. He signed his contract with the Fire three years ago almost to the day. Andy Najar put in an entire MLS career in that time. DeAndre Yedlin signed with Seattle in January and made the All-Star team in July. Pineda is 9 days younger than Najar and about 90 days older than Yedlin. The Fire haven't found time for him to even step on the field? Najar played almost 1,500 minutes more than Cuauhtemoc Blanco did in MLS and Pineda can't even get a 5-minute garbage-time substitution in the regular season?

The Effect on Morale

Imagine yourself as a soccer talented 15 year-old kid. Better yet, imagine yourself the parent of a soccer talented 15 year-old kid. You want your son to be the best and have the best road to the pros. You see a regular U.S. Youth National Team member just hang around on the Fire squad well after he is 20. You see another Fire homegrown player get loaned out to the Atlanta Silverbacks. How much of a priority is it for you to get your son to skip college (where they might get a scholarship of some kind) and sign with the Fire? The money is decent ($50,000-$75,000) in the short-term but as a parent, I'm not sure the trade off is worth it. That means other Chicago academies are on the table in my opinion.

Chicago's Crowded Academy Scene

Chicago has plenty of other soccer academies. Chicago Magic and Sockers FC were around for quite sometime before the Chicago Fire started their academy in 2007. Sockers FC alumni include Michael Bradley, Jay DeMerit, Baggio Husidic, Will Johnson, Mike Magee, Jonathan Spector, and Michael Stephens. Chicago Magic alumni include Perry Kitchen, Ricardo Clark, Ned Grabavoy, Eric Lichaj, Brad Guzan, Brad Ring, and Chris Schuler.

The Magic now have an affiliation with Paris St. Germain. These kind of affiliations are generally trumped up far more than they should be but the Magic are at least sending top players for short training stints with PSG. Sockers FC points out in their FAQs that players are not discouraged from competing in high school soccer. An important distinction because MLS academy players are no longer allowing their players to do so.

MLS teams don't charge their players to play for their academy but if money is not a concern for you and you are closer to the other academies than you are to Bridgeview, I could understand a parent enrolling their child in something non-Fire. The Greek team Olympiacos has even setup a soccer school.

TopDrawerSoccer.com's Top 20 Regional rankings for the Midwest in each age group demonstrate the competitive nature in Chicago. The Fire need to be aggressive in order to regularly draw in most of the top local talent into their academy.

What's the Big Deal?

Two years ago when only 15 players had received regular season minutes, it was fine that the Fire had not played a Homegrown Player yet. I understand that not every Homegrown signing is going to pan out. Each player has their own development clock. There is a 'right time' for everyone. It strikes me as odd that it hasn't been the right time for any one player in the Chicagoland area while it has been the right time for multiple players in much smaller markets than Chicago.

It means that for all the great history of the Chicago Fire PDL team, the front office hasn't been able to capitalize on its success while other MLS teams have caught up and potential surpassed the Fire's youth development. It means that for all of the Fire's team success on the national academy stage, the club isn't yet living up to the mission of the academy; "to cultivate professional soccer players".

This is an area of player acquisition that the front office must step up. There are multiple benefits to having a Homegrown Player:

  • A player that is already familiar with your club structure and personnel
  • A hometown hero for the fans and the media
  • A player who does not count against the salary cap

That's right. Homegrown Players don't count against the salary cap. This part of the Homegrown Player rule seems like it will change at some point but for now, many teams in MLS are double-dipping by getting minutes from players that allow them to build up funds to acquire older players. The Fire started talking about the fact that they were going to face salary cap issues for the 2013 season before the 2013 off-season started. They didn't sign a Homegrown player or two in the off-season that could help give relief in that category.

The benefits to Chicago's competition are coming. This past Saturday, D.C. United played all 5 of their Homegrown players. New England played both of theirs. Toronto played two of their 4 Homegrowns. Columbus defeated New York 2-0 with Homegrown goalie Matt Lampson getting the shutout, Homegrown midfielder Will Trapp assisting Higuain on his second goal, and Homegrown Chad Barson putting in a full 90 minutes in defense. These four teams are below Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings for now but what happens when they have multiple players starting for them and not counting against the salary cap? The Fire will be at a disadvantage and that will be remarkable given Chicago's pioneering efforts in youth soccer and its larger population to draw talent from.

Future of the Eastern Conference

The fact that Chicago hasn't played a Homegrown Player yet isn't all that different from Sporting KC only giving Kevin Ellis 113 minutes so far. Outside of Agudelo and Connor Lade who has fallen out of favor, New York has almost no Homegrown production. Houston has very limited success even releasing a couple of players. Montreal hasn't seen much out of its 5 Homegrowns. Maybe there's something to being a successful team that means you don't have open minutes to give to players like Victor Pineda a chance. It's frustrating that since 2010 it seems like the Fire are constantly needing to win the next game or they won't make the playoffs.

Chicago is in a bit of a Homegrown Player no-man's land. We aren't struggling enough where we can give minutes to the kids to build the future. We aren't strong enough that we can afford to give minutes to players that we are just trying out. I just hope we don't get sandwiched out in the future. Sporting KC, New York, and Montreal remain competitive doing what they do. New England, Columbus, D.C. United, and Toronto FC use their Homegrown Players to full advantage within the salary cap. The Fire and Philadelphia will muck around. New York City FC will be a wild card.

Seven-Figure Transfer Fee

In the "To DP or not DP", Chicago Fire Senior Director of Communications Dan Lobring mentioned that Juan Luis Anangono came complete with a seven-figure transfer fee. I've speculated that MLS might have picked up some if not all of that transfer fee but if the Fire paid at least $1M in order to acquire Anangono, that strikes me as a very poor investment. On top of Anangono's regular salary, the Fire are pouring more money into this guy than all but about 10 MLS players this year. If Anangono does not produce like one of those top players and the Fire were not tapping into a league resource that would have expired otherwise, his signing should be viewed as a failure.

If MLS allowed the Fire to spend over $1M of league resources on acquiring Anangono, they should question their own policy of assisting this process. If the Fire spent over $1M of their own resources just to acquire Anangono while they only have 2 Homegrown Players, I really have to wonder what's up. Each MLS team can sign up to 2 Homegrown Players with funds from the Generation Adidas program. This is a hybrid program from the original Generation Adidas program that signed top college players that weren't seniors yet. It's not clear whether or not Kellen Gulley and Victor Pineda are enlisted in the program but if they aren't, the Fire are not tapping into one or both of these contracts. If the Fire do have them under the Generation Adidas program, the team is holding back from using its own funds to sign a Homegrown Player. If there are no talented Homegrown Players in the system that would make the squad, I have to question why other teams are developing Major League talent and we are content with having 10-11 players that don't make it to the Gameday 18 but do take up room on the salary cap.

Chicago soccer fans thought the Homegrown Player rule was going to benefit the Fire when it was announced due to the success of the PDL team. I think I speak for many when I say I'm surprised the Fire are behind in Homegrown Player development at this point. We need to start playing the kids. We need to start gaming the salary cap system before the Homegrown Player system is maiming us.

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