Only a month after the club attempted to be awarded a Homegrown Player claim on Jack Harrison, whom the team eventually acquired via the SuperDraft, Claudio Reyna now says patience is the key for NYCFC producing it's first ever Homegrown Player.
In a report on mlssoccer.com, Reyna shared his thoughts regarding the youth development process and what the club's goals are when trying to develop young talent:
"It was important for us that we were able to start with an age group we could make an impact with," NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna told MLSsoccer.com. "If we started with U-18 age group we would have only had them for a year. We feel it wouldn’t have been an impact to develop them the way we want them to play."
The 2015 season saw the club usher in it's first youth academy team - a team comprised of kids between the ages of 13-14. This group will continue on as the senior members of the youth academy. The 2016 season will see the club add 4 teams to its youth academy: U-12, U-13, U-14, with the inaugural youth squad being promoted to the U-15/16 squad. The club's decision to go this route most likely means they will have to wait at least two more years before identifying the first player they deem worthy of a Homegrown Player contract. But that doesn't bother Reyna in the slightest.
"We’ve committed to doing it in this way and worry more about the long-term development than the short-term gain," he said.
In addition to creating these four youth squads, NYCFC also has the unique advantage of calling on it's 11 affiliate clubs to serve as a way of bringing in young talent into their Youth Academy.
"I believe what we’ve done is unique. No one has done this," Reyna said. "It was always important for us to connect with the greater soccer community that has already existed long before New York City FC became an MLS club."
Working closely with the technical directors of each affiliate, NYCFC hopes to gain an advantage to identifying talent. Instead of using what Reyna believes to be an "antiquated, and stressful" setup in using tryouts to identify young talent for their academy program, now the club can identify and monitor talent over the course of several years by means of their affiliate clubs.
"It doesn’t give you the best view of a player’s ability when you only see them for 2-3 days," Reyna said. "We want to know a player over 1, 2 or 3 years before they join our club."
NYCFC does not plan to exclusively use their affiliate clubs to fill out their academy roster, but we can already see the benefits of this unique arrangement. Out of the 17 players currently in the NYCFC Youth Academy, 15 of them came from the affiliate clubs. Reyna spoke about the benefits of bringing in kids from the clubs' affiliates.
"There’s a comfort of knowing the players, knowing the parents, having them feel part of the club, being able to work with the affiliates and getting feedback from the technical directors at the various affiliate clubs about each players," Reyna said.
Despite interest from players from around the country, Reyna says the club's focus is firmly on identifying young talent right here in the New York City area.
"We are seeing interest from players from around the country who want to move to New York and join our Academy, but we’re trying to keep our distance from doing this," Reyna said. "I think we need to make a statement and focus on the players in our backyard."
These comments seem to emphasize the club's interest in establishing firm roots in the New York City area. This is a welcomed sentiment for many fans who may still be weary of the team's long term direction. 2015 saw the club deal with a lot of scrutiny, much of it self inflicted to be sure. The Designated Player signings and overall roster construction, so many fans and pundits labeling NYCFC's team building strategy as "MLS 1.0". Many felt that the club was missing the mark by signing older players like Lampard and Pirlo. We've also seen a groundswell of praise for clubs like FC Dallas who have "built from within" with promoting so many players from their own Youth Academy like Jesse Gonzalez, Kellyn Acosta and several others.
Having said that, news like this reminds us that there is more to what's going on with NYCFC than click inducing narratives would suggest. While the team does have older players on the team like Lampard and Pirlo (and Villa if you want to include him in that group), the team also has been building a young nucleus even starting back from last season with players like Mullins, Poku, Shelton and McNamara. This offseason has also seen the club get younger, not older. MLS lifers like Brovsky, Wingert, and Grabavoy have been replaced with young players Matarrita, Harrison, and Diego Martinez.
It's also very fascinating to see how NYCFC is creating a youth development arrangement unlike any other right now in the United States. By connecting with the New York community and partnering with the youth development that was already underway, NYCFC has planted roots that have may have taken years to establish otherwise. It's also created a network that involves less guess work and more informed decision making based on extensive knowledge and scouting on the youth players they are targeting. While it may take some years before the club sees dividends, it has the potential to create a pipeline of talent not much unlike what we've seen from clubs like FC Dallas, LA Galaxy, and even across the Hudson with the Red Bulls. And that means creating a solid foundation that infuses young talent, while still having the financial resources of CFG to bring in the big name DPs moving forward.
The Academy team recently participated in the XXI Mundialito Tahuichi Paz Y Unidad 2015 tournament in Bolivia, and will compete in Spain next month.
Stay tuned for more Academy updates in the near future.