Three for Thursday: Homegrown stars making their mark
More than three years on from its institution, the proponents of the Homegrown player rule can feel good about how the rule has played out. Arguably the most talented crop of Homegrown players yet has signed with the league prior to the 2013 season, but perhaps more importantly, MLS academy products are ready to test their talents in Europe for the first time.
In the 2012-13 transfer window, MLS shipped its first two Homegrown players to European teams, with Andy Najar completing his transfer to Anderlecht earlier this week and Philadelphia's Zach Pfeffer sealing a year-long loan move to Hoffenheim in December. Juan Agudelo was heavily linked to a move to the UK and could be following shortly.
Though the draft remains the primary mechanism for MLS teams to acquire young talent, more Homegrown players are finding success in the league, and more young players will turn towards the academy system when considering their career options. Here are three of the top Homegrown talents to emerge so far from which they can draw inspiration.
Najar's sale to Belgian powerhouse Anderlecht is rich reward for what he’s accomplished in three years with D.C. United: 82 games, 72 starts, 10 goals and 11 assists and plenty of praise from coaches and pundits alike.
Oh, and he's the only Homegrown player to have won the Rookie of the Year award, in 2010.
Though his decision to represent his native Honduras over the United States may have come as a disappointment to US fans, the early signs are that it has been the right one for Najar. He enjoyed a very successful run at the Olympics with the Catrachos and has earned three caps for the senior squad, along with a call-up for the team's upcoming World Cup qualifier against the United States.
Regardless of your international allegiance, Najar has clearly been one of the success stories among Homegrowns – joining United at the age of 17 gave him a chance to test his considerable talent at a much higher level than any other teenage player in the US and accelerated his development in a very positive way.
Even with his underwhelming 2012 and uncertainty surrounding his club situation, Juan Agudelo has accomplished plenty since he signed with New York in 2010, and remains, along with Najar, one of the most high-profile players to come out of the MLS academy system.
Still just 20 years old, Agudelo has plenty of experience under his belt, with more than 50 MLS appearances to his name, not to mention his 17 US national team caps.
Before he’d even scored his first professional goal (which would eventually come at the start of a six-goal 2011 season in New York), Agudelo had scored on his national team debut, a late winner in a November 2010 friendly in South Africa, while his goal four months later against Argentina only added to his growing mystique as the answer to the US team's questions at forward.
But after a sizzling start to his pro career, Agudelo faced a difficult 2012 that saw him traded midseason to Chivas USA, where he scored three goals in 20 games and fell out of the national team picture until a November appearance in a friendly against Russia.
Despite his recent struggles, Agudelo has made significant strides since going pro and is still a very good bet to follow Najar to Europe before many US players of the same age are even out of college.
Fagundez becamse the youngest player to sign with MLS since Freddy Adu, when he became the Revolution’s first Homegrown signing in 2010 at the tender age of 15.
Since then, Fagundez has eased into MLS play, eventually earning eight starts in the 2012 season, scoring two goals and two assists while still just 17 years old.
Fagundez has a ways to go to match what players like Najar and Agudelo have achieved both on the MLS stage and internationally, but if his MLS numbers and recent call-up to the Uruguay U-20 squad are any indication, he is well on his way.