Where Does Toronto FC Academy Rank Amongst The Best?
By Anthony Gallo
With teams like FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls becoming dominant academies and first teams, where does Toronto FC rank amongst the best in MLS?
For a long time, people thought that MLS was just a place where old soccer players past their prime played until they felt it was time to leave. Today, the league has moved past that perception and has been able to produce some talented domestic and international players.
Chelsea’s Matt Miazga, Chicago Fire’s David Accam, and Sunderland loanee DeAndre Yedlin are just three players that are either in MLS and have shown their potential, or have gone from the league and are currently playing abroad.
Those players wouldn’t have been noticed if it wasn’t for the hard work that goes into developing young players. When one thinks of talented MLS academies, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas are just a few that stand out. How about Toronto FC? Are they up there with the best academies? Have they produced any great talents? Well, those will be answered here, as we take a look at how TFC’s academy system compares to the others.
First off, it is hard to judge academies. Some players look promising when they are young, but don’t develop any more when they get an MLS contract. To see where TFC ranks amongst the best, I am looking at how many homegrown players get valuable match minutes, how many teams have signed homegrown talents, how have some young academy teams fared in tournaments, and finally which clubs have made a huge profit from selling their talented youngsters.
Currently this season, seven clubs have signed five or more homegrown players to contracts. TFC is one of them, with the likes of Quillan Roberts, Jay Chapman, Ashtone Morgan, Chris Mannella and Jordan Hamilton all being local talents discovered by the club. FC Dallas leads the league in HG’s signed with seven.
It’s one thing to sign local talent, but which teams actually give out valuable MLS minutes? Again that is Dallas, as they have given all seven of their HG’s first team minutes. Second would be the LA Galaxy who have given all five of their HG’s first team minutes. Rounding the top three is the Montreal Impact who have given four out of their five local talents MLS experience.
TFC ranks fifth in number of minutes for homegrown’s, giving Morgan, Chapman and Hamilton first team exposure. Roberts and Mannella are two players that haven’t made an appearance yet for the first team.
The 2015 Chipotle Homegrown Challenge could be another way to judge HG’s. In last years match before the All-Star game, three FC Dallas players suited up for the MLS HG’s. Followed by two Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps players and one player from each the Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, the Impact and TFC (Chapman).
For MLS teams with youth squads under the age of 16, those teams are able to play in tournaments around the world. TFC’s youth teams have travelled to Dallas, Florida, Italy, France, and Spain recently. This allows them to face different opponent’s then they are use to and allows them to feel like a true professional.
Adidas also holds their Generation Adidas Cup for MLS teams to see who has the best youth team. The fall portion of this year’s tournament was held in Toronto and saw TFC take on clubs like Orlando City, NYRB, D.C. United, New England Revolution and the Philadelphia Union.
TFC would advance from their group and move on to the GA Cup Champions Division, which featured clubs like Valencia, River Plate, Villarreal CF and U. De Chile. TFC was placed in a group with FC Dallas, Mexico’s U-17 team, and Valencia. Not the easiest of groups at all.
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The young Reds would defeat a talented Dallas team, but lost to Mexico 2-1 and Valencia 6-3. They would finish the tournament with a 3-0-2 record, later defeating the San Jose Earthquake and the Columbus Crew.
The U-14’s went to France and took on top French teams like Marseille, AS Saint-Etienne, and Lille. They would finish that tournament 2-1-4 but were able to defeat Marseille 2-1.
The U-15’s were in Italy and were one of 32 teams invited to the Trofeo Gallini tournament. The young Reds would advance to the quarter-finals, losing to Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb 1-0. They would finish 8th out of 32 teams.
Finally, the U-12’s were also in the GA Cup and won their first two matches against Orlando and LAFC, only losing to Spain’s Celta de Vigo. They would advance to the knockout stage, but lost to Chivas de Guadalajara.
A key reason why clubs prefer to grow their own talent rather than pay a premium for one, is that it is much cheaper to develop local players than buy one talented youngster. Still, a team will need top coaches, facilities and equipment to see which players are the best of the rest, but compared to paying almost double that for a single player doesn’t make too much sense.
Looking back at players MLS teams have sold off, a famous one for TFC fans is Maurice Edu. Edu was sold to Scottish club Glasgow Rangers for a reported $4.73 million in 2008. TFC would also develop West Ham defender Doniel Henry and sell him to Cyprus club Apollon Limassol, who would loan him back and then sell him to West Ham for a reported $1.9 million. Still, Henry was brought up in the TFC Academy before his move to europe.
Other then that, clubs like the Red Bulls and Dallas have made major profits for selling players they developed. The Red Bulls being the biggest, as they have sold players like Jozy Altidore, Miazga, Tim Ream and even Michael Bradley to top european teams.
Again, judging who has the best MLS academy is difficult and I have only touched on a couple of things to look at. There are things that aren’t so clear, and people will have their say on who is the best. It is no doubt that clubs like Dallas and the Red Bulls are top MLS teams and have produced some talented players. However, TFC does look to be on the right track to be a top academy and first team, with players being named to Canadian youth teams and players moving up the clubs system.
Let us know what you think? Should TFC be recognized for their youth talent? Which teams do you think are top MLS academies? Let us know on twitter, Facebook, or the comments below.