PORTLAND, Ore. — The inaugural MLS Homegrown Game ended in a scoreless draw between the MLS selection and the Portland Timbers Under-23s on Monday. The game took place at Providence Park, where the All-Stars take on Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Here are three thoughts on the Homegrown Game:
• The Timbers were the right opponent for this game. They had the advantage of playing together for the entire summer in the Premier Development League, while the MLS Homegrown side was thrown together much like the All-Star team.
The Timbers displayed that cohesion, especially as the first half wore on, maintaining possession and hitting the post on a James Moberg shot on a combination down the left side in the first 10 minutes of play. Moberg joined University of Washington teammates Cristian Roldan and Andy Thoma on the drive down Interstate-5 for the match despite not playing for the team in the PDL.
The MLS players had a better second half, as regular starters Dillon Serna, Wil Trapp and Harry Shipp came on, as well as the San Jose Earthquakes’ young talent Tommy Thompson. It was a mirror image of the first 45 minutes, as the Homegrowns possessed the ball and the U-23s resorted to more direct balls. In the end, the even score line seemed justified, although Portland had better scoring opportunities throughout.
• A Homegrown Game is on par with the NBA and Major League Baseball’s Rising Stars games, but take them for what they are for the pros involved: showcases, not tryouts. As long as everybody went back to their clubs healthy, it was a good afternoon. (Toronto FC's Ashtone Morgan was substituted during the second half, but his injury didn't look serious.) Several likely came with instructions to play limited minutes, and other eligible players weren’t available for various reasons, including DeAndre Yedlin, Gyasi Zardes and Diego Fagúndez. As a result, nobody stood out as noticeably better than his teammates for the MLS’ young stars.
If anything, the Timbers players had more of a reason to try to impress with MLS coaches and media in the crowd. Only a couple of those players were likely on the radar before the match, including Roldan, who turned down a Generation adidas offer in the offseason, and Moberg, who had a strong performance for the Timbers. Now, they might get some more serious looks as their college seasons commence.
As the league evolves, should officials decide they want to continue to stage this game, it could be interesting to see two teams of Homegrown players match up. If MLS has ambitions of being a top-10 league in the world, the majority of their players will likely have to come through the ever-improving academy system, raising the number of players available and the level of those players every year.
• Having a Homegrown Game featuring MLS academies during All-Star week shows how far the United States has come in developing players — and the long road still ahead. Putting aside the caveats that some of the best players weren’t available and that teams strung together quickly don’t generally show well, the product on the field still has to improve.
The college route is still seen as the most viable option for entering the league, and some of the country’s best coaches of young talent are still in the NCAA. If MLS can find a way to implement a year-round program while still allowing for the cultural tradition of American young adults attending college, that would be a big step in the right direction.
College soccer representatives are in the process of lobbying for a split season, half in the fall and half in the spring, and are looking for the support of MLS. That would affect the league’s current combine and draft schedule, as seniors would no longer be finished with their college careers in January, when both are usually held.
Is it time to scrap the draft entirely? Should MLS even look to the college system anymore with its academies becoming stronger and beginning to bear fruit?
We’re at an interesting time in American youth development. The answers to these questions will determine the new path players take as the transition from an outdated system continues.