Generation Adidas provides an incentive for the most promising kids to forgo some or all of their college education to start professional careers in Major League Soccer. Adidas chips in to offer a salary significant enough to keep players like Jozy Altidore and Brek Shea from heading overseas immediately, while sweetening the deal for any team that might be reluctant to spend big bucks on an untested youngster. Should things not work out, college tuition is promised to players and teams aren't left with the burden of cumbersome multi-year contracts. These players do not count against the salary cap and they are protected in expansion drafts. More often than not, the Generation Adidas kids succeed - scroll through the alumni list and it will turn up nearly every player to suit up for the US Men's National Team since 2000 and dozens of league all-stars.
While there don't seem to be any clear-cut guidelines, players are kept in the program until they have established themselves enough with a team to hold their own. Danny Califf, Justin Mapp, Brian Carroll, and Freddy Adu came into the league through this program (though it was known as Nike Project-40 at the time). Amobi Okugo, Danny Mwanga, Zac MacMath, and Jack McInerney are currently on the books as G.A. players. Hit the jump to see who is in line to graduate this year and how it may affect the Philadelphia Union going forward...
Though players can stay in the program for four years (even five if there are injuries involved), they historically need to play well over 1,500 minutes in their first season or over 1,000 in two consecutive seasons to graduate early. Goalkeepers tend to stay in the program longer and usually need to log over 2,000 minutes for a few seasons before graduation is considered. Stefan Frei, for example, played 2,295 minutes in his rookie season with Toronto FC, but he remained a G.A. player until the end of his second season (when he logged another 2,520 minutes). Nick Rimando was in net for 2,002 minutes in his rookie season and needed another 2,300 the following season to exit the program.
There is no hard and fast rule for field players, but one 1,000 minute season has never been enough to graduate and two seasons with fewer than 900 minutes hasn't done it either. Of all graduates, Brad Davis had the fewest minutes played in his first year before graduating (1,246 minutes), but there are many guys who played more as rookies and kept their G.A. status. Santino Quaranta is the only player to graduate without hitting the 1,000 minute mark in either of his first two seasons (exactly 949 minutes played 2 seasons in a row). Bobby Convey played 1,614 minutes in his first season and Freddy Adu played 1,440 but they were both retained... probably because they were too young to drive or legally work in most other professions.
So where do the Union G.A. players stand?
2010 season: 24 games played, 17 starts, 1461 min. 7 goals, 4 assists.
2011 season: 26 games played, 13 starts, 1472 min. 5 goals, 4 assists.
2010 season: 17 games played, 1 start, 350 min. 3 goals, 0 assists.
2011 season: 15 games played, 5 starts, 494 min. 1 goal, 0 assists.
2010 season: 11 games played, 4 starts, 437 min. 0 goals, 0 assists.
2011 season: 10 games played, 6 starts, 571 min. 0 goals, 0 assists.
2011 season: 4 games played, 3 starts, 315 minutes. 6 saves, 4 goals against.
Danny Mwanga will certainly graduate from Generation Adidas this year, as his minutes and number of starts put him right in line with every other player to graduate in the second year. That means he will need protection during the expansion draft as Montreal joins the league and the Union will have to take on the full weight of his salary. This year, he was scheduled to make $120,000 in base salary / $226,250 in guaranteed compensation.
Even if they played a vital role for the remainder of the season, the other three couldn't rack up enough minutes to match any player who has ever graduated from the program in two years. MacMath's G.A. tenure hinges on how long he remains behind Faryd Mondragon in the depth chart (and no one is in any hurry in that department), while McInerney and Okugo will be hungry for more minutes with Adidas footing part of the bill for another year.
Pair them with Homegrown Player Zach Pfeffer, a few academy kids with a shot at similar contracts next season, and the potential for picking more G.A. players in the SuperDraft, the Union should have a steady stream of talented rugrats running around without affecting the salary cap for years to come. Now if the U could only figure out what to do with that old guy who never plays but makes more money than... never mind.