As a slight diversion from the intensity of the playoffs, the Seattle Sounders have been in making waves with Home Grown Player news. First University of Washington forward Darwin Jones announced he looks forward to signing a HGP contract with the Sounders, then Sounders Academy product Victory Mansaray was officially announced as Seattle’s fourth HGP after DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar.
Signing talented HGPs is a very good thing. HGPs are the closest MLS has to the NFL’s top ten draft picks. These guys are the blue chip players, the can’t-miss prospects. Sure they need development and coaching, but good teams stockpile them. Yedlin was a singular success, but even raw players like Sean Okoli have already made their mark in EBFG history (seriously Okoli’s assist way back in the first week of the season to get us the win against SKC was bananas. Who knew those would be some of the only meaningful minutes he’d play all year?). Even better, teams have an economic incentive to sign HGPs, as two per year don’t count against the strict MLS salary cap.
What I find most curious is the timing of the Mansaray announcement. I don’t know much about Mansaray other than he comes highly touted from with the Sounders Academy. He dominated at the U16 level, and was capped by the USMNT U18 squad when they beat the Czech Republic 3-nil. Okoli and Kovar signed as HGPs back on January 9th, in the dregs of the offseason. Mansaray is stating a different trend. The club signs him in the middle of the playoffs and, unlike Yedlin, Okoli and Kovar, before he plays any college ball.
I’d argue that the new USL-Pro affiliate, S2, is already having an impact on business as usual. The Sounders want to fill-out the S2 roster. Players want to see meaningful, professional minutes. If S2 existed 2 or three years ago, Okoli may never have matriculated at Wake Forest or Yedlin at Akron. This is a good thing. More than just offseason Academy games and training, being rostered with S2 fully commits the players to the Sounders system. Think of Jordan Morris, a regular Sounders Academy trainee, who is still flirting with his decisions for the future. Adrian and Sigi want to lock down tomorrow’s Jordan Morris in Rave Green, and S2 allows them to do so.
Home Grown Players are tomorrow’s Sounders. Most of these HGPs will only find regular minutes with S2 for the forseeable future (it’s kinda hard to get time with the first time when some guys named Ozzie and Oba on the roster). But attrition always hits good teams the hardest (unless you’re RSL for some reason). The Sounders have collected a very deep and talented roster this season. But with NYCFC and Orland City joining the league to the tune of two expansion drafts, plus the annual Re-Entry Draft (and DeAndre Yedlin is vamoosing to North London), the Sounders can expect their roster to be poached. HGP will keep this club’s quality intact.