Which MLS Homegrown talents in college, if not signed, are sure things for the 2014 SuperDraft?
If you’ve read our first mockery of SuperDraft 2014, then you are probably angry about the fact that such-and-such remarkable player is not included on the list.
“Seriously?” you’re probably already typing in the comment section. “You guys didn’t include Harrison Shipp? Is he not East Coast enough for you?”
In fairness, Shipp plays in the ACC, so pick a player who plays in Conference USA or some other conference that doesn’t actually have the East Coast of the US in its name before you're so mean to us again. Don't be so angry!
More importantly, Shipp may not be drafted because he is, in fact, a Homegrown prospect for the Chicago Fire, and may not even make it to draft day. (We think. The Fire themselves say that new head coach Frank Yallop needs to sit down and figure out where everything stands with their various former Academy players that are in the college system right now.)
"Homegrown player" is a designation found in the depths of the MLS Roster Rules, and it exists as a way of encouraging clubs to find, develop and keep their own talent. The idea is that if you make the next Diego Fagundez in your academy, you get to keep him – he doesn't go into the draft.
Of course, not every Homegrown is going to go directly to MLS at age 15 or 16, the way Fagundez, and LA's Jack McBean, and a handful of other players around the league have. Much more common is the scenic route through college – Seattle Sounders Homegrown DeAndre Yedlin spent two years at Akron before inking his first pro contract. Scott Caldwell was Yedlin's Akron teammate, but he did all four years in college before signing with the Revs.
Both those guys would have been high draft picks, but because they were Homegrown eligible, the teams that did all the hard work in developing them got to keep them.
"OK," you're thinking, "why doesn't some smart team just get all the top college kids into their academy, then sign them?"
You're devious, and we like that. But it won't work. The cut-off for Homegrown designation is a year of academy time prior to entering college, which in the past has ruled out the likes of Dilly Duka (New York tried to claim him, but couldn't) and Nick DeLeon (RSL were denied). And the player has to train at least 80 days with the academy during that time to be eligible as a Homegrown.
Oh, and you can't poach someone else's academy kids, either. Kids who switch academies aren't Homegrown eligible unless the parents moved for non-soccer reasons.
Anyway, that covers most of the bases here. And assuming Shipp is eligible for now, he's certainly not alone as a possible new Homegrown signing.
Let’s run down some of the guys who should be targets (bearing in mind that these are just guesses – nothing will be confirmed until December at the earliest):
Harrison Shipp, F, Notre Dame
OK, so let’s start with Shipp. Notre Dame’s standout senior scored nine goals and added eight assists in the Fighting Irish’s first season in the ACC. If you don't think there are teams in MLS who might want his services, you’re crazy. But if one of those teams is the Fire, everyone else is out of luck. On the other hand, because he’s a senior, if Chicago pass on him, then he’ll be up for grabs with no strings attached.
Boyd Okwuonu, D, North Carolina
Okwuonu’s Tar Heels were less effective on defense this year than last – that said, they allowed just seven goals in 2012, so there wasn’t a ton of room for improvement. That doesn’t mean he’s become any less of a special player – he was still All-ACC first team. But Okwuonu was an FC Dallas Academy player, and according to Hunt Sports Group vice president Dan Hunt, the team will welcome the junior center back (or will he be a fullback?) with open arms if and when he decides to come out of school.
Sebastian Ibeagha, D, Duke
Ibeagha is another great, can’t-miss senior who would be the ideal sort of player to take in the draft for teams looking for a strong center back who’s good in the air. But before he goes to the SuperDraft, the Houston Dynamo can offer him a contract and take him off the market.
Sean Okoli, F, Wake Forest
Sounders fans will be happy to know that Okoli, the highly rated No. 9 out of Wake Forest, is planning to come out of school this year according to a report from Top Drawer Soccer. Okoli, whose self-described favorite part about soccer is “scoring goals,” is a Homegrown in the Sounders’ system, and so if he does leave Wake, he’ll have to sign with Seattle or go overseas.
Brandon Allen, F, Georgetown
Allen is a tall, well-built forward who has a nose for goal – he has 11 so far this year, and scored 16 last year – and, even as a sophomore, would be the kind of player that you could see being brought in via Generation adidas. Given the MLS success of his on-field doppleganger (RSL's Devon Sandoval) this year, there should be significant interest from the Red Bulls in getting this kid on the team.
Chris Ritter, D/M, Northwestern
Ritter is in the same boat as Shipp: As a (fifth-year) senior, he'd be a highly-rated pick, probably a first rounder. But he was developed by the Fire, and they'll very likely do what they can to get him to put pen to paper, as he provides cover both at d-mid and central defense.
Eric Stevenson, M, Akron
Stevenson finished second on the team in scoring this season with five goals, and added five assists. The senior midfielder could, who grew up in the shadow of Columbus Crew Stadium, has a spot at the pro level most likely as a box-to-box midfielder, or perhaps as an outright attacker in the right scheme.
Tommy Thompson, M/F, Indiana
Thompson, a freshman with the Hoosiers, seems a good bet to be San Jose's first-ever Homegrown signing. He's a tiny, elusive and highly technical attacker similar to Fagundez – which would definitely be a different look for the Quakes. He's got great soccer bloodlines as well, as two brothers play NCAA ball and his dad, Gregg, was capped 12 times for the USMNT in the mid-80s.