Give Caleb Porter some credit. The new Timbers head man wasted no time in proving he's plenty clever enough to navigate the MLS rulebook.
So clever, in fact, that he broke some MLS ground on Monday by convincing New York to throw in the Homegrown rights to Akron sophomore Bryan Gallego in a trade for Kosuke Kimura.
It's not the first time a Homegrown player has changed hands via trade in MLS – Colorado acquired Josh Janniere from Toronto – but it's the first time an unsigned Homegrown player has been included in a transaction (Janniere was signed by TFC as a condition of the deal). Now, nobody can be sure the US U-20 prospect will actually put pen to paper with the Timbers just yet, but it's still a great bit of business by the Portland boss, especially since he has first-hand knowledge of Gallego from coaching him the past two years at Akron.
Of course, the question going forward is whether or not this trade will add Homegrown rights to the list of assets clubs bring to the bargaining table. Is Porter blazing a path no one will follow, or will college players tied to MLS academies become the next big trade chip, a la minor-league prospects in Major League Baseball?
I'm already convinced that the next step in player development is not actually academy-to-MLS signings. Instead, the logical way forward, for the time being at least, is to develop players in the academy and send them off to a prominent college program to ensure they're ready for the rigors of MLS without impacting the salary cap or 30-man roster. Once the the time is right, clubs can sign the prospects ready to make the jump without using a SuperDraft pick or risking another team reaping the rewards of their developmental efforts.
Clearly, some players will have the chops – and enough interest outside of MLS – to force clubs to lock them up early and send them straight from the academy to the first team. Zach Pfeffer, who just sealed a year-long loan move to Hoffenheim at 17 years of age, is a perfect example.
And for those preparing the bash the college system as a developmental route, take a quick look at your team's roster. Odds are there are handful of college products in the starting lineup, and the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Will Bruin, Graham Zusi and Chris Pontius (among many, many others) can all thank NCAA soccer for helping them prepare for success in MLS.
Is it perfect? No chance. Can MLS teams make it work to their advantage? That's been proven time and time again.
What do you think? What role, if any, will Homegrown rights play this offseason and in the years ahead?