There is a problem with the current youth soccer setup in North America.
In recent years, MLS and U.S. Soccer have made a constituted effort to improve things across the board, and some big strides have been made, such as many teams forming academies and recently expanding their efforts into reserve teams. While these implementations have brought the U.S. Soccer youth system closer towards the world's standard, there are still major issues keeping it from reaching its intended goal.
The New York Red Bulls Academy is a prime example of these backwards policies hindering a program's growth. Time and time again they have been able to identify a talented youth prospect. They've been able to bring in that player to help shape his future career only to see that player leave the club at the first chance he gets for a professional contract and/or a better opportunity, usually in Europe. The club is left with nothing but the memory of having been able to see the player first-hand. No matter what that player goes on to accomplish, the club sees no reward for the guidance they provided.
One of the more notable players that have slipped through the Red Bulls' fingers is U.S. youth international Russell Canouse. The 20-year-old Pennsylvania native was brought into the Red Bulls academy as a youngster only to leave when Bundesliga club Hoffenheim came calling. Canouse has gone on to be named to the USA's U-20 World Cup roster (before being removed due to injury) and has consistently featured for the Hoffenheim reserves.
This isn't just a problem that has manifested recently. We've seen plenty of names come through the Red Bulls system and move on to other opportunities. Another former U.S. youth player Gabriel Ferrari is just one more example of this. The once highly touted American prospect was with the MetroStars academy from 2003-2005 before jumping ship to Serie A outfit Sampdoria. At the time, the lure of the Italian top flight was most likely appealing for the player, but maybe sticking it out with the Metro setup would've been more beneficial to his development.
Once A Metro spoke with former Red Bulls Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh in June and he shed some light on the difficulties the club has had holding onto young talent.
"It's one of the big problems with the academies here, there is no protection," said Roxburgh. "How can you invest in an academy or in your fringe young players if they can just walk away?"
He specifically pointed to one instance of a player movement hurting the Red Bulls because clubs who offer vital training for young players aren't valued.
"We lost a 17-year-old goalkeeper a year ago, he just walked and he went to Reading. His mother wrote a note: ‘Thank you very much,'" Roxburgh said.
That player turned out to be Aleksander Gogic who still plays for Reading's academy.
It's this type of nonchalance that has clubs frustrated with the system that is trying desperately to create a pipeline of talent to first teams around the country. The struggle continues to this day as the Red Bulls have several talented players that have either recently trained with their academy or still do, but have taken opportunities or received interest from other clubs.
- Arun Basuljevic (trained with Stabaek)
- Matthew Olosunde (reported interest from Europe, particularly Manchester United)
- Scott Thomsen (trained in Scotland)
- Adam Najem (trained in Sweden)
- Timothy Weah (left for PSG)
- Kyle Duncan (trained with PSG)