All-Star: Inaugural Chipotle Homegrown Game represents a big stride for youth development

PORTLAND, Ore. – Highlighting the growth of MLS, US and Canadian player development is one of the most widely-discussed topics in North American soccer today.

As the league grows and the US national team continues to become a player on the international stage, club academies and youth national teams have become of the focal point of that bottom-to-top approach. And MLS director of player programs Alfonso Mondelo said there’s no reason why the Chipotle Homegrown Game can’t be a part of that development – even if it is a fun part.

“This is a very positive moment for the growth of player development in Major League Soccer, something that we could not have conceived of doing five or six years ago,” said Mondelo, who served as the coach for the Homegrown team in their exhibition against the Portland Timbers U-23s on Monday night at Providence Park, part of the MLS All-Star week of festivities, that ended in a scoreless draw. “And to see the quality of some of the players we have here, I think it bodes well for the future of MLS, the US and the Canadian national teams.”

Mondelo said the event is a proper showcase for the league’s growing stable of young talent. First-team starters such as Chicago Fire forward Harry Shipp, Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert were featured in the group.

But for US youth internationals such as Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jon Kempin and defender Erik Palmer-Brown and New York Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga, who don’t see much or any MLS playing time, the game is a just reward for their continued growth.

“I think as more and more of these players begin to develop there will be more opportunities for players to come in and play in these types of games,” Mondelo said. “I think this is a good idea because it’s a way of showcasing the future stars of the league.”

The game itself didn’t offer any goals, but there was plenty of action in what proved to be an evenly-matched contest between the Homegrown players, who only had a walkthrough earlier in the day, and the Timbers’ developmental side that finished fourth in the Northwest Division of the Premier Development League.

“I did see some moments where the All-Stars showed some good, quality possession and there were some good, quality chances being created,” Mondelo said. “The only thing that was missing was the finish.”

Shipp, who has six goals and five assists in his rookie season for the Fire, said the talent being produced in MLS academies is only improving, so a game like Monday night’s makes sense. He said it was a thrill to gather a group of players that featured US youth national team members along with players from the Canadian national team ranks, such as Teibert and Toronto FC’s Ashtone Morgan, with players like himself who rose through the club academy levels.

“It’s a credit to how these academies have been developing kids, and hopefully it keeps growing in the five, 10 years,” Shipp said. “… I think it’s definitely something that should happen ever year, and if it doesn’t happen every year it’s a mistake by the league.”

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