Founded back in 2007, the Generation adidas Cup is an annual Under-17 competition including nearly every MLS academy and a handful of the world’s best as well. It serves not only as a tangible competitive benchmark for the participating MLS academies, but it’s also a prime scouting apparatus.
Imagine pooling as many of the top players in the country under the age of 17 as you can find, dropping them onto a playing field with the likes of Real Madrid, Eintracht Frankfurt and Tigres. The importance more or less sells itself.
So it should go without saying that a handful of current MLS players made their mark, either initial or otherwise, at this event. Here’s my list of the top 10 current MLS players (sorry, no Matt Miazga or Andy Najar this time) who used past Generation adidas Cup performances to launch auspicious careers.
10. Brandon Allen, New York Red Bulls
Whether or not Brandon Allen is one of the Top 10 best in MLS to currently lace them up, he certainly did about as much as anyone to crank up the volume around his hype thanks to the 2010 Generation adidas Cup. Allen was an irrepressible force at that event, putting in three goals in the Red Bulls’ three games en route to a second-place group stage finish.
The performance kicked off a run in which Allen, always a forward, scored 28 goals in 24 games in the ensuing season and eventually became the leading scorer in Georgetown history after four years. In 2016, Allen was named the USL Rookie of the Year with Red Bulls II, and now he’s knocking on the door to first-team minutes. Feel free to trace the nexus of his notoriety back to that brilliant week in 2010.
9. Dillon Serna, Colorado Rapids
Dillon Serna was a complete unknown on even a regional level when he joined the Rapids academy in 2009, but he more or less has the GA Cup to thank for ushering in his breakout. He made his first appearance for a Rapids Under-17 team in 2009, and it was at the following tournament in 2010 that he first turned the heads of U.S. Soccer’s onlooking scouts.
Three years later, he was a Freshman All-American for Akron and a Rapids Homegrown. In those days, Serna was a goal-getting, bombing winger who specialized in finding space in the box (he had 12 goals in his last year as a Rapids Under-18 player). As his professional career progressed, he’s mostly bounced between the wing and left back.
8. Tommy Thompson, San Jose Earthquakes
Tommy Thompson’s legend in NorCal grew as a player for Sacramento’s California Development Academy to the point that the Earthquakes invited him to guest play for their crew. They were so impressed that they immediately folded him into the mix, and in 2012, the same year he joined the Earthquakes academy, he absolutely dazzled at the Generation adidas Cup to cement the decision as a good one.
The only question was Thompson’s best position, although he largely played as a No. 10 on both the academy level and during his one season at Indiana in 2013. It would seem San Jose has yet to truly answer that deployment question, although he’s largely been stashed on the right in coach Dom Kinnear’s 4-4-2. But what the Earthquakes saw in 2012 is largely the same thing we’re seeing now: skill. Loads and loads of skill.
7. Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake certainly knew what it had in Justen Glad before 2014, but it took the stage and a massive run from a hugely successful RSL class to convince the rest of the country. In fact, Glad had already signed a Homegrown deal by the time he dazzled in the 2014 Generation adidas Cup, when RSL made a stirring run to the title game before falling in penalties to Stoke City.
In fact, RSL locked up Glad about a week before the 2014 tournament, which was a smart move in such a high-profile tournament. Glad’s been a center back for just about the entirety of his developmental career at RSL, and that level of specialization clearly moved along his career. He’s always been good with his feet. But as a pro, his progression as a crunching defender has been something to behold.
6. Juan Agudelo, New England Revolution
By the time Juan Agudelo played in his first Generation adidas Cup in 2008, he was already a rising star in the New York Red Bulls academy system. It became plainly evident even in those days that Agudelo had the feet and daring to make defenders look silly, and he had a habit of scoring goals for days.
There was never much question Agudelo was a silky forward. He was among the first wave of players who used this platform to further their case for a Homegrown deal, and after 2008 it wasn’t long until the Red Bulls extended it to him. For good measure, Agudelo scored five goals in the 2010 edition – the Red Bulls skipped it in 2009 – and promptly made his professional debut just weeks later on April 27. Hard to use the occasion as a runway to the first team any better than that.
5. Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution
For some prospects, the Generation adidas Cup provides the first substantive glimpse at their prodigious talent ceiling. For others, like Diego Fagundez, it’s the last straw before the front office decides a Homegrown deal is the next step.
By July 2010, Fagundez had already been with the Revolution academy for a year, and his last game at the tournament was resplendent. He scored a goal in the Revs’ only win, a smashing 5-2 victory over Toronto FC on an unassisted piece of skill. The Revs didn’t sit on its biggest academy talent long; four months later, they made Fagundez the youngest Homegrown in history, a record that still stands. At the time, Fagundez was a barnstorming attacking midfielder. Little has changed since then.
4. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
Wil Trapp is one of those rare breeds who’s specialized at his favored position in the deep recesses of the midfield for more or less his entire career. So it often goes when skill sets are so self evident as Trapp’s.
By the time Trapp left the Crew SC academy for Akron in 2011, he’d already captained both the club's Under-16 and Under-18 outfits and even won a high school state championship in the days before US Soccer forced players to choose between the DA and high school ball.
Trapp’s time at the Generation adidas Cup in the late 2000’s only helped his notoriety, although he was well-scouted enough that he didn’t necessarily need it to launch his career. It did help his US Soccer career, however, and by 2013 he was leading the Under-20 Men's National Team at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
3. Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy
Of all the players on this list, Gyasi Zardes might owe the most to the Generation adidas Cup. He was a complete unknown when he joined the LA Galaxy academy in 2008, and he promptly led the team in scoring in that year’s GA Cup as the team captain. That put him on a few Division I radars for the first time, and it took a dice roll from CSU Bakersfield to increase his profile even more before earning a Homegrown deal with the Galaxy.
By the time Zardes hit the Generation adidas Cup he was already a well-built six-footer, and he was cast exclusively as a quick-trigger forward asked to fill up scoresheets. It wasn’t until much later – mostly under Jurgen Klinsmann – that Zardes was asked to be a winger with anything approaching consistency.
2. Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas
Ask me again in another year or two and Kellyn Acosta may well swap places with our incumbent No. 1 here. As is, Acosta wasn’t quite the meteoric talent he is now back in 2009, when he joined the FC Dallas academy after having just chosen soccer over careers in track, football and basketball. But two years after starting with FC Dallas, Acosta was playing in an Under-17 World Cup, and his play in the Generation adidas Cup was undoubtedly all part of the scouting process.
Acosta may be at his best these days as a sort of hybrid holding midfielder-No. 8, but he actually got his start as a fullback at the youth level to utilize his blend of athleticism and smarts. Acosta quickly transitioned to the central midfield with the first team after signing as a Homegrown in 2013, and US Men’s National Team coach Bruce Arena seems to favor him there as well. Glad tidings indeed.
1. Bill Hamid, D.C. United
This probably shouldn’t come as any surprise, but Bill Hamid, the Homegrown with more first team minutes than anyone in MLS history, is our chart-topper. And Hamid’s career arc, dramatic as it was, is directly tied to the Generation adidas Cup.
He rocketed onto the scene in in 2007 just months after joining D.C. United’s academy by backstopping an eventual title-winning Under-17 side in the first ever edition of the tournament. That shot his star into orbit, and from there it was only a matter of time until the first team came calling.
D.C. United made club history in 2009 by making Hamid, always a prodigiously built keeper even then, the first player to ever sign directly out of their academy. D.C. United won three of the first four Generation adidas Cups, and Hamid’s tone-setting 2007 team was the genesis.