MLS Development Academies give teams plenty of choicesLast Wednesday, Zach Pfeffer became the 23rd player to sign a homegrown contract with MLS. The question beckons - who will be next?
Pfeffer signed his deal with the Philadelphia Union, making the club the 13th to utilize their academy to add to the first team roster. Columbus, Real Salt Lake, San Jose, Seattle, and Portland are the five clubs without an academy player yet.
For Pfeffer, he is the fourth youngest player to sign with the league, behind Freddy Adu, Fuad Ibrahim, and Diego Fagundez. The young midfielder is likely just the tip of the iceberg, with the expanded rosters and return of the reserve league, for homegrown contracts this offseason.
So here are a handful of players making a splash in the Development Academy who could make the jump to the professional level (players already in college were excluded from list):
Jonathan Top, FC Dallas
Top is next in the deep pipeline from the FC Dallas Academy. He is a very talented forward who has drawn the lust of multiple national team coaches. The striker might not be at the level of former academy product Ruben Luna, but he can score with the best of them.
Playing with the FC Dallas U18 team this season, Top has eight goals in 10 games. Last season, he had 23 goals in 28 games with the U16s.
Hindering Top might be the strength of the FC Dallas academy. Luna probably has more potential and already has ink on his professional deal. So Dallas may be more inclined to give Luna those limited minutes and wait on Top to head to college first. Either way this youngster has a bright future in Frisco - whether it will start in a few years or next season is still to be determined.
Besides Top, head coach Schellas Hyndman has other options for suitable academy stars to call up to his full squad. One of those is defender Michael Ambrose, who recently competed with the U.S. U18s in a tournament in Israel.
Sean Okoli, Seattle Sounders
Okoli has been one of the breakout stars for the young Sounders program. In just their first year, the Sounders U18 team are off to a flying start with eight wins in their first 12 games.
Their striker, Okoli, is a major reason for that success. The high school senior has six goals on the year even though he missed a few games while with the national team.
Okoli spent some time training with the full team last season, so head coach Sigi Schmid and staff have a very good idea of the capabilities of their youth team’s leading scorer.
Beyond Okoli, there are other prospects in the Seattle Academy for Schmid to look over for a potential roster spot, including DeAndre Yeldin. The feisty midfielder already has two red cards on the season. He is committed to join the NCAA Champion Akron Zips in the fall.
Jack McBean, Los Angeles Galaxy
McBean could be the heir apparent for the spot Tristan Bowen vacated when sent to the locker room across the hall. McBean is a speedy striker who was called into the U.S. U17 camp earlier this month.
While he is off competing for a spot on the U.S. U17 CONCACAF Championship, Galaxy could be debating signing the leading scorer on their U16 team. This year, McBean has nine goals in 10 games with the Galaxy academy.
Last season, he was tearing up high school defenses as a freshman at Corona del Mar playing along side UCLA forward Reed Williams. The duo combined to lead the school to a state title.
Since signing Bowen, LA Galaxy have been quiet on the youth front both in terms of results and players. With the addition of Chris Klein to the management fold, Galaxy are pushing to close the gap between the academy and first team.
Jordan Rideout, Sporting Kansas City
The 5’11 forward was one of three academy players to train with the full team last year. Jonathan Kempin, another one of that trio, already signed a professional contract.
Rideout has started the season strong with four goals in seven games. Last year, he had 14 goals in 29 games with the U16 team.
Besides Kempin and Rideout, the other youth player who trained with the full team was Konner Knoll. The defender was the recipient of the Kansas City Wizards Junior player of the year last season. Both Knoll and Rideout are committed to go to UMKC next fall if a professional deal does not appear.
Eriq Zavaleta, Real Salt Lake
The U.S. youth national defender falls into a gray area for the homegrown rule in MLS. He is not originally from RSL’s region, but he does play for their residential program in Arizona.
Zavaleta is a 6’1 defender who could elevate his game to the professional level. His foot speed is a big question mark at the next stage, but his aerial abilities are a huge plus.
Zavaleta is not alone in the professional prospects among the residential RSL squad. Midfielder Ricardo Velasco was the lone RSL player in the Academy Select game earlier this month. Velasco has drawn interest from several colleges but stated he is exploring professional opportunities.
Another possibility is Maikon Orrellana. The leading scorer of the U18 squad has seven goals in seven games this season. He was invited to participate in the RSL combine last week with college seniors and other potential players for the full team.
There are talented players across the Academy developing to be the next Juan Agudelo or Andy Najar. Now it may just be a question for the clubs about when to sign them.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer editor at goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer