MLS academy improvements sparked by recruiting, infrastructure investment

The launch of Dallas’ USL League One team, North Texas SC, is perhaps even more substantial for the organization. Academy players can now sign Homegrown deals and get consistent professional experience if they can’t crack an MLS gameday roster.

“Our academy, because of the quality of the players and the quantity of players that we had, there was a bottleneck that made it very difficult for us to accelerate the development path of a lot of our young talent,” Hayden said. “They couldn’t start for the first team and get meaningful minutes. They were playing in an environment in the academy where it was not enough stress, having too many games that were lopsided, too many games that were not providing a real test for our top talents.”

There’s simply more time, money and support being poured into academies by most MLS teams than a few years ago. Whether that’s in the form of reserve teams in USL, fielding more teams at younger ages, or hiring more full-time coaches or support staff, much is going on behind the scenes that bears fruit on the field.

North Carolina State associate head coach Jeff Negalha has been around both the collegiate and professional game for more than a decade. A longtime assistant at the University of North Carolina, he spent a year and a half working for Orlando City SC, returning to the college coaching ranks in January 2016. The efforts made by MLS academies haven’t been lost on him as he scouts players for an ACC program.

“I’ve noticed an aggressive belief and commitment from owners who are providing an infrastructure that essentially allows growth and change in players, coaches, and staff,” he said. “Coaches and players are prepared, which relates to games being very competitive not only domestically, but against international competition. This pattern of growth allows opportunities for players with their youth national teams and ultimately helps them and their countries at the international stage.”

Players at the MLS academies will witness a measuring stick of international competition starting this weekend in Texas, at both the Generation adidas Cup and Dallas Cup. No matter how things play out, the experience is another mile marker for the unpredictable, but mostly improving process of player development.

“There’s been a huge increase in quality across the board within MLS,” Hayden said. “Some clubs are doubling down, spending even more money and time on facilities, international competition, second teams, coaching staffs, resources, with data, analytics. There’s been a lot more investment, and I don’t see that changing, except for the better.”