In a league that's known for making rules up as it goes, MLS HQ's rejection of New York City FC's homegrown claim to college star Jack Harrison shows the league moving away from arbitrary interpretation and towards consistency.
One decision is hardly consistent or precedent setting, but MLS' dismissal in this situation is one in a string of more stringent applications of the homegrown rules. Perhaps the league is finally sticking by the regulations they enacted after years of allowing teams to sidestep them on a case-by-case basis.
The precedent for this decision was set last winter. Goalkeeper Alex Bono had a good year in college, and the New England Revolution inquired as to his homegrown status. In his senior year in high school, Bono's club team (Empire United) became affiliated with the New England Revolution, and future players would be eligible for a homegrown contract from New England. However, Bono was already a freshman in college by the time his former club team's affiliation came into full effect, thus making him ineligible for such a benefit. Bono trained with the Revolution while he was in college, but when the team inquired as to his homegrown status, they were informed that he wouldn't be eligible for a homegrown deal. New England accepted that answer, and Alex Bono was ultimately selected with the sixth pick in the 2015 SuperDraft by Toronto FC.
Fast forward to the 2015 off-season and homegrown signings are coming in thick and fast. The New York Red Bulls signed Brandon Allen, despite challenges to his eligibility due to his lack of training with the team while in college. The Philadelphia Union saw their homegrown claim on Keegan Rosenberry rejected; a claim based around affiliates, select teams, and academy formation that would have certainly passed muster in years past. While none of this is definitive proof of predictable, judicious, and consistent decisions on future Homegrown claims, it appears that the regulations are becoming more clearly defined and readily enforced.
And then NYC FC attempted to claim Jack Harrison as a homegrown which generated a lot of discussion in MLS circles. The Wake Forest star played for Manhattan Soccer Club for multiple years, a club that would eventually become an NYC FC affiliate. However, Harrison had left the club by the time NYC FC became affiliated with them. A player must participate in the club's youth system, in one form or another, for at least a year before attending college, and Jack Harrison simply didn't. A bold, almost laughable claim, but one can't fault NYC FC for trying based on past decisions from the league. Steven Evans, for example, was signed by the Portland Timbers as a homegrown player, despite never playing for a Timbers Academy team or valid affiliate. Instead, he played for a club team that became an affiliate after he left the team. There's no harm in attempting to push the boundaries, but since MLS appears to be finally adhering to their own Homegrown rules, this claim won't fly.
As MLS' rules are currently laid out, NYC FC's Homegrown claim on Jack Harrison should've been denied. With the precedence set by MLS on similar cases in recent years, NYC FC's Homegrown "rights" on the former Gatorade Player of the Year should've been ignored completely. And despite NYC FC's insistence on continuing to pursue the issue, it appears that is what happened. The one time Manchester United starlet will not be joining MLS this year as a Homegrown product. Though not perfect, this is progress. In a league where Steven Evans, Nizar Khalfan, Tyler Turner, and Harrison Heath can in some convoluted way be considered homegrown players, it's good to see the league take a step towards consistency and forcing real youth development. Sorry NYC FC, sorry Jack Harrison, but this is a victory for the league.