Fans counting down the days to New York City FC’s first Homegrown Player signing will have to wait a bit longer.
The club, which is embarking on its second season in Major League Soccer, isn’t rushing the youth developmental process.
There is one team in their Academy structure – for kids ages 13-14 – and that team will continue to be the oldest in the years to come. NYCFC will add teams under that group in the coming years.
Next year, the club will have four teams: U-12, U-13, U-14 and the graduated U-15/16 squad.
“It was important for us that we were able to start with an age group we could make an impact with,” NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna told MLSsoccer.com. “If we started with U-18 age group we would have only had them for a year. We feel it wouldn’t have been an impact to develop them the way we want them to play.”
That means at least two years before the first Homegrown Player signing, but that’s OK with Reyna, who previously was the youth technical director for US Soccer.
“We’ve committed to doing it in this way and worry more about the long-term development than the short-term gain,” he said.
The club’s 11 affiliate clubs will also help serve as a feeder program for the Academy teams.
“I believe what we’ve done is unique. No one has done this,” Reyna said. “It was always important for us to connect with the greater soccer community that has already existed long before New York City FC became an MLS club.”
Working closely with technical directors of each affiliate, NYCFC will be able to identify and monitor players over the course of several years, eliminating what Reyna believes is an antiquated, and stressful, tryout setup.
“It doesn’t give you the best view of a player’s ability when you only see them for 2-3 days,” Reyna said. “We want to know a player over 1, 2 or 3 years before they join our club.”
While the Academy teams won’t exclusively be comprised of affiliate players, there is the obvious benefit. Of the 17 players on NYCFC’s first Academy team, 15 have come from the affiliates.
“There’s a comfort of knowing the players, knowing the parents, having them feel part of the club, being able to work with the affiliates and getting feedback from the technical directors at the various affiliate clubs about each players,” Reyna said.
Reyna said there is no current plans to recruit players from outside the New York City area for the club’s Academy, though he said there have been inquiries.
“We are seeing interest from players from around the country who want to move to New York and join our Academy, but we’re trying to keep our distance from doing this,” Reyna said. “I think we need to make a statement and focus on the players in our backyard.”
- Get more NYCFC news at NYCFC.com
While Reyna said southern California is currently the most fertile area for developing players, he believes the New York area isn’t far behind. He said it is NYCFC’s responsibility to ensure more of those players are included in United States youth teams.
“There should be more players if you look at the youth national teams player pools that come from the New York area,” Reyna said. “That’s something we will focus on and make sure we’re developing and preparing players to pass along to the national team.”
The Academy team, which recently played in the XXI Mundialito Tahuichi Paz Y Unidad 2015 tournament in Bolivia and will compete in Spain next month, also had interactions with the first team a year ago. In groups of 4-5, they were invited to spend the day with the first team at training, to witness the players’ preparation from the time they arrive until they leave.
“It’s really important we connect them and we’re doing that from the very beginning,” Reyna said.
The goal, Reyna said, is to eventually have four to five Homegrown players on the team’s roster, although it is too early to say when that becomes a reality.
Across the river, the New York Red Bulls have been lauded for their youth development and have a league-leading 11 Homegrown Players signed.
“It’s just the head start that they’ve had, but it shows there’s talent in the area and it’s a good sign,” Reyna said. “We’ll both benefit from having enough talent in our area. It’s definitely encouraging to see players come through and play for them and sign the players they have recently from Homegrown.”
Reyna said he’s been impressed with the investments being made, both by US Soccer and MLS, toward youth development. Particularly the quality of coaches now involved, former players such as Ruben Garcia, who has been a great asset on the goalkeeping development across all age groups of the US Youth National Team. Also Fred Lipka, the former director of the Paris Racing Academy, as MLS technical director of youth player and development.
“These are unique developments that didn’t exist before,” Reyna said. “We’ve come a long way from my time growing up, but there’s certainly a long way to go still.”