What Sam Vines' new deal says about the future of young players in MLS | Charles Boehm

Sam Vines - Colorado Rapids - Tight shot

Sam Vines is one of the most talented young players in MLS, a growing part of the US men’s national team picture with ambitions to someday compete under the bright lights of a top European league.

He was also entering the final year of his contract this year. And for a long time, that combination of factors often added up to playing out the deal and crossing the Atlantic to try their luck as a free agent.

But Vines, much like NYCFC’s James Sands earlier in the week, and Reggie Cannon before them, didn’t do that. The 21-year-old homegrown just inked a four-year extension with the Colorado Rapids, a deal that will likely make him one of the better-paid fullbacks in MLS, Not bad at all for a kid who was out on loan at USL Championship side Charlotte Independence barely two years ago.

“So with Sam, I think he is very excited about the potential here with the club and feels like we can still provide a platform for him to achieve his ambitions, winning an MLS Cup, staying in the US men's national team, playing at a World Cup in 2022, and potentially at some point in time making the move to Europe,” Colorado sporting director Padraig Smith said in a Friday media availability.

“There's a great relationship there. We're all on the same page in terms of how we want to see this goal going forward and the main aim right now is to perform at the club level, perform at the national level. And then we see where that goes.”

What Sam Vines' new deal says about the future of young players in MLS | Charles Boehm - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/USATSI_15214709.jpg?fDRL5VaoE2BcHj43A1NFb2ekEOzWh3mg

Colorado Rapids' fullback Sam Vines (right) in action during a match against the Seattle Sounders on Nov. 1, 2020 | USA Today Sports

A range of European clubs are closely tracking Vines, with English sides Barnsley and Bournemouth, Danish power FC Midtjylland and Switzerland’s FC Basel all registering their interest this winter. And Vines and his camp trust that the Rapids will help set him up for the best move, at the best time, for all involved.

“With what seems to be one of the smallest salary budgets in Major League Soccer, Padraig has put together a very competitive and deep roster with a focus on developing young talents and giving them opportunities to succeed. They’ve created a place where players want to play, with an identity,” Mike Senkowski, Vines' agent at Octagon, told MLSsoccer.com.

“They know who they are, and they know what they're trying to do, and that is to build a club with younger players, give opportunities to young guys and reward them for their performances.”

That last part is noteworthy. Vines’ situation will be watched by his current and future Rapids teammates, offering them the possibility of a similar trajectory should they justify it on the field.

“They’re the type of players that we want to bring in here – we want players who want to maximize their potential and go to the very heights of the game,” said Smith.

“We’ve had Sam with the club since he was 13 years of age. We've always been very open with how we see his development. I think you build that trust over time by committing to something and then doing the right thing. So we put our young players on their elite player development pathway. We very clearly outline how we see the process going and we're very clear to say that won't be a linear progression, there will be ups and downs there. But we have to manage that and to provide them with the environment in which they can achieve their maximum potential.”

The Rapids have elected to build their culture around the cultivation and elevation of young players, and their flurry of signings and acquisitions this past week points to an acceleration of that approach. The last piece in the puzzle is completing profitable transfers abroad – a tricky equation for even MLS’s most established youth systems – and they’ll look to hit that target in the windows to come.

“He's got real aspirations,” Smith said of Vines. “I think he understands that he can continue to develop here, can continue to play at the highest levels here. And then when the right opportunity emerges we can all look at that and make the right decision. I mean, I'll be clear: We want to move players. That is very much a part of our business plan here.”