MLS academies, the next Messi and single-entity fixation

Only in America can a discussion on developing soccer players be riddled with phrases like “corporate initiative-driven opinion,” “single-entity, closed league,” “misleading marketing machine” and “underwear modeling initiatives.”

There’s also a haughty dismissal of MLS’s pride in its academies. “Leagues (emphasis mine) do not produce players, clubs and coaches produce players.” Then writer Jon Townsend goes on to extol the virtue of Germany’s federation-driven model. So leagues don’t produce players, but federations do? I don’t understand — is MLS commissioner Don Garber running the Sounders’ U16 training sessions?

Tying single entity, not to mention the lack of pro/rel in MLS, to youth development doesn’t make a lot of sense. In practice, single entity as it currently exists in MLS is little more than a legal term. The last vestiges of the 1996 days of Sunil Gulati assigning players to teams are a salary restraint with a lot of loopholes and a cumbersome method of compensating teams with bargaining chips to ensure parity.

Let’s see how the business structure makes MLS different. Given the fact that salaries are limited but academy spending is not, wouldn’t a club be more inclined to spend money on the academies to get a competitive edge?

Youth development questions are tricky. England is now in, what, its third decade of hand-wringing over why it doesn’t produce any more Gazzas and Beckhams, much less any Charltons and Matthewses?

You’re not going to solve them all at the league level. And you’re not going to get a Messi through sheer force of will and spending. But neither does it help to sneer at the efforts — which previous first-division U.S. leagues did NOT make — to focus on youth development. Maybe we’ll at least get a few more Yedlins, Hamids and Najars.

MLS offers plenty of ammunition for critics (get the CBA done before December, and just allow outright free agency, OK?). So does U.S. youth development (let’s have five national championships!). The intersection of the two, though is generally a good thing. And let’s not pretend the league structure has any more to do with youth development than the befuddling new MLS logo. After all, clubs and coaches develop players, not leagues.