Major League Soccer Should Encourage Residency Programs

November 11, 2009 at 5:08 am | Posted in General Football | 4 Comments

The MLS is an interesting league to watch because it is kind of a laboratory for new soccer ideas.  One such idea is the single entity concept which I am told is based on the NFL model.  Another is the concept of using drafts to distribute players among the teams rather than letting teams develop their own talent.   The MLS, for the good of the league and for the good of the Game in the USA and Canada, must scrap or at least modify this system.

When Greg Kerfoot purchased the Vancouver Whitecaps he put in place a European style club structure which would train and develop players from a young age.  The jewell in the crown is the residency program, which allows young players in their teens to live  and train as professional footballers.  There is no substitute for this arrangement, which allows young players to train on a daily basis. Footballers are like concert violinists: they must start young and be professionally trained from a young age.   Waiting to draft them after they have finished college is waiting too long.  When players come out of college they are 21 or 22 years of age, which is too old for clubs to have any real impact on their development.   College football turns out good athletes, but not players with fine soccer skills.

The question of whether the Whitecaps will be able to keep their residency program and the players in it is an issue the Whitecaps are discussing with the MLS.   The Whitecaps system is clearly the way ahead for football in the US and Canada if these countries want to improve the quality of football in their countries.

The current draft system is poor for soccer and gives the clubs no incentive to develop local players.   Given the size of North America, the MLS clubs can grow soccer their own unique soccer markets by taking an active role in the communities in which they are situated.  They can do this by putting in place child and youth soccer programs including residency programs. Not every child will make it as a pro, but they will be educated in soccer and will learn to love and appreciate the game.  This is how fans are created and how football knowledge is spread.

I was scouted at the age of 15 and put into a youth program by the old NASL Whitecaps and was trained hard three days a week by experienced English coaches such as Alan Errington, Alan Goad, Les Wilson and even the great Nobby Stiles.  I never played a game of professional soccer but I learned a great deal about the game and became a fan of the Whitecaps club and the game itself for life.

Unless there is something in it for the clubs why would clubs develop young players?  If any talent they develop gets to be enjoyed by someone else because of the draft system, there is no incentive to run such programs.    I think the MLS should allow teams to sign young players and protect players they have registered and trained in their youth academies.  This would be an incentive for teams to develop youngsters in the Club’s local community.  The result would be better footballers, better educated fans, and a better standard of football for the fans to watch.

The current player development system in the MLS badly needs reform along the lines of  the Vancouver Whitecaps club structure.   The sooner this starts, the better for the game and its fans.



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  1. Spot on, good sir. One only has to look at the team to see how successful the program has been.

  2. I agree with MLS clubs getting more involved at the local level. I also think that the god-awful parent coaches that almost all the kids are exposed to for their first 3-4 years of soccer need to be retired and replaced with properly trained coaches who actually know how to play soccer (could you imagine bringing your kid to swimming lessons taught by someone who has never been in water? why is this the model in youth soccer? it’s crazy).

    I most definitely do not believe that the clubs have any place taking over the raising of peoples’ children. This has been disastrous for the vast majority of kids entering residency programs in Europe. England certainly has not been well served by the residency program (zero World Cups since adoption, not even close to the top 5 national teams in the world, failed to even qualify for the last Euro Cup). Many parents there refuse to let their kids play soccer because they don’t want the clubs getting their hooks into the kids at age 16.

    Also, we need to get some Italian, French, Brazilian, and Argentinian guys in. It seems like if you show up in NA with an English accent you are automatically deemed a soccer expert, even if you can’t kick a ball.

    Finally, considering the Red Bulls sold Jozy Altidore for $10M, I’d say that there is tremendous incentive to develop players in NA even with the MLS equalization draft.

    • Good thoughts Sounders Fan. I think that there has to be a parachute for those kids who don’t make it. Perhaps a scholarship. Residency programs should be accompanied by ordinary education as well as soccer education. I think that soccer parents could also learn by seeing the drills and skills the kids learn when they are coached by proper soccer coaches. Perhaps they might be tempted to train for coaching badges. The clubs might be able to do coach training as well. The teams would build goodwill in the community by doing so and also get their name out there amongst the general public.

  3. I read many of your blog posts. Good Job and very informative.

    Keep it up!


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