With the recent investment of $20 million towards a new training ground by Toronto FC and the league-wide emphasis of academy building; it is clear that for TFC and MLS they perceive that academies are the future of player development in Canada and the US. Unlike many of my fellow Toronto FC supporters, I believe that academies are not the saviour of Canadian soccer and might not become the primary mode of entry for Canadians into MLS. The main reason for this is that the players may be turned off from signing from the TFC Academy by North American, European, and Soccer factors.
Before I present my arguments I would first like to do a brief summary of the academy players currently signed with TFC:
Doneil Henry: 26 games played with 15 starts, projected to be CB of the future but is now starting RB under Mariner. Paid $45,100 in 2012
Ashtone Morgan: 34 games played with 28 starts, starting LB projected to be future All-Star (with Europe a distant possibility) and has just signed a new 3 year deal with TFC hopefully including a raise. Paid $44,000 in 2012
Matt Stinson: 16 games played with 6 starts, the most mysterious of all Academy graduates seemed to break through under Winter last year but with only 3 appearances this year seems to be doomed. I project him to be a bubble player on a MLS squad, never being spectacular and always in danger of being replaced. Paid $44,000 in 2012
Oscar Cordon: 4 games played with 1 start all in 2011 and has not made the subs bench in 2012, he has not been rated by any coach and his career is doomed (according to all indications given to me) and gave up a potential American college career for next to nothing. Paid $44,000 in 2012
Nicholas Lindsay: 4 games played with 2 starts in 2010 and has been injured all of 2011 and 2012, the what-if of the current academy players, to say he was amazing in those games would be an understatement, 3 assists in 4 game. He was simply spectacular. However fate dealt him a cruel blow, he broke his leg in an accident and probably killed his career. He may come back but probably will never be what those few games promised. Paid $45,100 in 2012
Keith Makubuya: 1 appearance in 2011 and has not made the subs bench in 2012, see Cordon. His soccer career effectively amounts to one half of football. Paid $44,000 in 2012
Quillan Roberts: 0 appearances in 2012 and none are expected anytime soon, he is projected to be... a goalkeeper. Seriously at 17 who knows what might become of him but considering that as a TFC 3rd string goalie he will be contending for all of 10 reserve games a year, his development will be affected. Probably should’ve gone to college and at least started matches then signed with TFC later, instead of unintentionally curbing his own growth. Paid $33,750 in 2012
If you choose to not continue to read my blog at least take note of the above summaries. Basically you have all of One player who has secured his long term future in the game, One player who looks to be a good player in to the future, One player who will probably never play again, and Four players who would have been infinitely better served going to university. All for the amazing chance to earn $44,000, which is what a university grad would probably be earning and would eventually surpass. Now all this may seem incidental to the success of the team because as most sports people will say "2 out of 7 ain’t bad" (or something like that). However it does affect the way the parents and the players will view the opportunity that graduation from TFC academy presents. Basically TFC is offering the slim chance of making very good money for a short time in return for the player sacrificing a free education which would perhaps derail his future in soccer.
The reasons that some Academy players will not/should not sign with TFC can roughly be divided into North American, European, and Soccer Factors.
· The United States offers full athletic scholarships to certain players (i.e. TFC academy players) to essentially attend university for free in return for playing soccer for the University. This is especially important in the Canadian job market where the lack of a post secondary education essentially means working for or near minimum wage.
· NCAA the ruling body of collegiate sports in the United States prohibits professional players from participating in university sports meaning that players who have ever signed a professional contract lose their eligibility to compete in sports at University and therefore the players cannot receive athletic scholarships.
· Canadian Universities, although they do offer athletic scholarships, the perceived competitive level is lower thus leading most athletes to go for American Schools.
· University Grads continue to have great success in MLS.
· MLS does not offer high enough starting wages to regularly convince athletes to forgo college (to put it in perspective High School athletes regularly command $200,000 and up salaries when they are drafted in the 5th round by MLB).
· Canadian athletes are counted as internationals to American teams in MLS meaning that there are only three teams in the whole world that consider borderline Canadian players an asset.
· It’s MLS or BUST, meaning that in "English Speaking" North America there is really only one league that can offer a living wage consistently.
· The current reserve league has all of ten games a year as opposed to 16 to 20 games played by colleges a year.
· Due to MLS rules Academy players are only really useful as long as they retain their home-grown status (and consequently lower salaries) and are more likely to be cut when they lose that status as seen with Generation Addidas Players.
· Europe has the most renowned academies and the best players tend to go to them as seen by former TFC Academy players Michael Petrasso and Dylan Carreiro signing with Queens Park Rangers and also Kevin Aleman signing with Real Valladolid (which are hardly powerhouses).
· Europe has no athletic scholarships which may be a main reason for the emergence of academies.
· Europe pays good wages.
· European leagues have football pyramids which mean that if a player doesn’t stick around at one level he can just go down.
· Due to the geography and huge amount of clubs in Europe, big clubs spend big money for scouting in Europe, if you’re a young player you will be more easily noticed in Europe.
· Soccer players have about a 10 year span, of top division play, in which they can make their money (around 23-33) so they have to make their money immediately and in large amounts.
· Do to the prevalence of world soccer and the deep player pool a long term stable career is almost impossible to maintain..
· Injuries, essentially everything could be going well, top of the world and then boom your top level career is over.
Basically what I’m saying while the TFC Academy may indeed become a success with time, it essentially relies on TFC selling a bad idea to the players and hoping they take it.