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Have the Philadelphia Union found a loophole in the Homegrown Player rule?

The recent signing of 15 year old Justin McMaster raised a lot of eyebrows - and questions about the Homegrown Player Rule. Here's why the Union may have just pulled a fast one.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The signing of Jamaican youth international Justin McMaster caught all of us a bit by surprise. McMaster is set to join the Union's Academy as soon as the Reggae Boyz U-17 team finishes playing in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship Qualifiers (Jamaica beat Guadeloupe 3-2 on Tuesday and will face off against Cuba tonight to go on the Final). McMaster won't be eligible to be selected as a Homegrown Player since he hasn't resided in the area for a full year, so this is definitely a signing for the future.

When talking to some folks about the signing, there was the misconception that since he plays for Jamaica's Youth National Team, he would not be eligible to be signed via the HGP mechanism. Not so fast though - according to the New York Red Bulls site on Homegrown players, the Homegrown Player policy is as follows:

Players in the New York Red Bulls Academy will be added to the MLS home grown talent identification list.

Players who are on the list will benefit from the opportunity to be signed directly by the New York Red Bulls first team, as opposed to entering the MLS Draft where they could be selected by any MLS team. Set in place by the MLS in 2006, the rule is designed to provide increased opportunities for local players. In order to be eligible players must abide by the following guidelines.
  • All players must reside in a team's "Home Territory" for at least one year prior to being added to the team's Home Grown Player List.
  • Players must be added to an MLS team's Home Grown Player List prior to entering a four-year college, but can maintain their Home Grown Player status during college if registered before entering that institution.
  • Members of the U17, U20, and U23 U.S. National Teams cannot be added to an MLS team's Home Grown Player List, but a player already on a Home Grown Player List can maintain that status if selected for a U.S. National team at a later date.
The Red Bulls can sign up to two players each year from its home grown talent list to either Senior or Developmental contracts.

Notice the verbiage there: it only mentions the US Youth National Teams - not those of foreign countries. There doesn't seem to be a restriction on foreign international youth team players, so it's entirely possible that McMaster could be signed with the Homegrown Player mechanism this time next year. It's been done at least once before - Vancouver Whitecaps signed Ethen Sampson via Homegrown Player mechanism this year. Sampson has played in Vancouver's system since a successful trial back in October 2012, however he represented his native South Africa as far back as 2009 with the South African U-17's. It's noteworthy that players like Diego Fagundez and Andy Najar represented their national youth teams (Fagundez with Uruguay and Najar with Honduras) well after joining the New England Revolution and D.C. United academies, respectively.

A visual guide to MLS' Homegrown Player Rule

Also of note is how few minutes Union Homegrown Players have actually played for the club. Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin were signed via the HGP mechanism in 2011, and Cristhian Hernandez was signed in 2012. Combined they have a grand total of 264 minutes for the Philadelphia Union in MLS play - not exactly a ringing endorsement of the club's willingness to promote players from Academy ranks. That being said, Pfeffer (widely regarded as the best of the three) was on loan for a good portion of his stint with 1899 Hoffenheim, while McLaughlin and Hernandez both have spent the majority of their time with Harrisburg City Islanders. It's a very small sample size, both in terms of players and in terms of how long those player have been with the club. It will be interesting indeed to follow McMaster's progress through the ranks.