RSL focused on youth development despite DP initiatives

SANDY, Utah — Two weeks ago, MLS announced a new initiative that allows clubs greater flexibility in signing younger stars to Designated Player contracts, beginning in 2012. But it's not likely Real Salt Lake will take advantage of the new rule — at least for now, said club GM Garth Lagerwey.

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of my owners, but I’ll simply say that as of today, I don’t anticipate us moving in that direction,” Lagerwey told MLSsoccer.com. “I don’t anticipate us adding Designated Players.”

He did, however, throw in the caveat that “things change all the time.”

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Lagerwey stressed that he has no problem with the DP rule, saying that it will help the league build upon the momentum created by the influx of established stars such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane. 

“I love it,” said Lagerwey. “It’s a great rule for the league. [But] it’s a bad rule for us as a small-market team. It’s yet another that the big markets can dominate.”

The reason Lagerwey gave is that while the rule provides an incentive by lowering the salary cap hit to either $150,000 or $200,000 depending on the age of the player, it could still take a lot more cash than that to lure young stars to join the league. 

So on the surface, Lagerwey explained that his team’s best approach to the future may still be their current model for putting together a successful squad.

“It’s a small-market model: It’s youth development," he said. "We’re the only team MLS team to have two teams in the [USSF Development League] playoffs this year — U16s finished third in the country, U18s made the playoffs. You have to spend on things that are cheap and affordable as a small market, long-term, if you are going to compete with the guys that can blow you out of the water, dollar for dollar."

It’s for that reason the club invested heavily in a full-time residency program, located in Casa Grande, Ariz. Though that program is too new to have so far produced tangible results, there are two college seniors that came through the predecessor RSL youth program that have caught Lagerwey's the eye.

"[Youth development] is the only way to do it, and you have to have a deep team, and you can’t sign [only] stars," he said. "All of the stuff we’ve done has been because we understood what our limitations were.”

Among those RSL academy products is Tony Cascio, a midfielder at Connecticut who is ranked No. 6 by Top Drawer Soccer on their current list of top pro prospects. Meanwhile, Louisville midfielder Nick DeLeon is ranked at No. 15.

Under the Home Grown rules, RSL would have the rights to both should they sign with MLS, and according to Lagerwey they’d gladly exercise that right. 

“If Tony Cascio and Nick DeLeon want to sign with MLS, we would welcome them with open arms,” he said.