Major League Soccer isn't known for either the stability or the opacity of its rules. Rules change often and with little warning, and the Homegrown Player Rule is no exception. Since we ran our article in May of 2014 on this subject, there have been some changes to the rule.
Since 2008, Major League Soccer has had the Homegrown Player Rule to allow clubs to develop and sign homegrown talent. Calling it a "rule" is actually a misnomer - it's one of MLS' many mechanisms clubs use to acquire players in the single-entity structure under which MLS operates. The official wording of the acquisition mechanism is brief:
A club may sign a player to his first professional contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.
There is no limit to the number of Homegrown Players a club may sign in a given year. - 2015 MLS Player Rules and Regulations Summary Rule II (G)
What the rules don't explain is that each MLS club is given a territory in which it may scout. This helps limit instances where clubs within the same structure compete against one another for a signature - that much has not changed. The territories haven't changed - for the most part. Here's a list of each club's current territory:
|Chicago Fire||75 mile radius from 3626 North Talman Avenue, Chicago, IL|
|Colorado Rapids||The entire state of Colorado and the entire state of New Mexico (shared with Portland Timbers) New Mexican suburbs of El Paso, TX|
|Columbus Crew SC||The entire state of Ohio|
|D.C. United||75 miles from their training facility (Google Maps coordinates 38.8937564,-76.9721137)|
|FC Dallas||75 miles from Toyota Soccer Center, Technology Drive, Frisco, TX and the rest of Texas north of Dallas and Fort Worth|
|Houston Dynamo||125 miles from 12131 Kirby Drive, Houston, Texas, 77045|
|LA Galaxy||75 mile radius from 18400 Avalon Blvd. Carson, CA 90746|
|Montreal Impact||All of Canada except for British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and a 50 mile radius from 35 Carl Hall Road, North York, ON|
|New England Revolution||75 mile radius from 1 Patriot Place, Foxboro, MA and the entire state of Rhode Island|
|New York City FC||75-mile radius from 1 E 161st St, Bronx, NY 10451, excluding a 25-mile radius from from 1 Stadium Drive Chester, PA|
|New York Red Bulls||75 mile radius from 600 Cape May Street, Harrison, NJ except for a 25 mile radius from 1 Stadium Drive Chester, PA|
|Orlando City||100 mile radius from 1610 W Church St, Orlando, FL 32805 plus the rest of the state of Florida north of the stadium|
|Philadelphia Union||75 mile radius from 1 Stadium Drive Chester, PA except for the state of Maryland and a 25 mile radius from 600 Cape May Street, Harrison, NJ|
|Portland Timbers||The entire state of Oregon, the entire state of Idaho, the entire state of New Mexico (shared with Colorado Rapids) excluding New Mexican suburbs of El Paso, TX, and including "Vancouver, Wash., and its environs"|
|Real Salt Lake||The entire state of Utah and the entire state of Arizona|
|San Jose Earthquakes||75 mile radius from 1123 Coleman Ave. San Jose, CA 95110|
|Seattle Sounders||The entire state of Hawaii and the entire state of Washington except for a 50 mile radius from 1844 SW Morrison Street, Portland, OR|
|Sporting Kansas City||The entire state of Kansas, the entire state of Missouri, and the entire state of Oklahoma|
|Toronto FC||All of Canada except British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec|
|Vancouver Whitecaps||All of Canada except Quebec and a 50 mile radius from 35 Carl Hall Road, North York, ON|
So what does that look like? Visually, there's less unclaimed space on the map.
It's worth noting that there are some other rules and regulations pertinent to acquiring a Homegrown Player. The New York Red Bulls spell out the requirements on their Academy site:
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 US National team at a later date.
The Red Bulls can sign up to two players each year from its homegrown talent list to either senior or developmental contracts.
From this, we glean a great deal of information. Major League Soccer keeps a list that identifies prospective Homegrown Players, and those are the only ones that can be selected by clubs as Homegrown Players. Also, players who are members of the United States Youth National Teams are ineligible for Homegrown Player status unless they were members of the academy before being called up. It also makes no rulings on players for other national teams - including Canada.
Teams can sign players outside of their territory through exemptions. Each team is granted a set number of exceptions, however the 2015 numbers are not made public. In 2013 and 2014 numbers were published in an article on mlssoccer.com in May of 2013.
|2013 Territory Exceptions||Number|
|NYRB, LA, CHV, CHI, PHI||2|
|DAL, DC, HOU, NE, SEA, SJ, TOR||3|
|CLB, COL, SKC, RSL, VAN, POR||5|
|2014 Territory Exceptions||Number|
|NYRB, LA, CHV, CHI, PHI||2|
|DAL, DC, HOU, NE, SEA, SJ, TOR||4|
|CLB, COL, SKC, RSL, VAN, POR||8|
From this, we can see that the clubs with the best local talent pools (centered in the North Jersey/Philadelphia, Chicagoland, and Southern California regions) get the fewest exemptions while clubs with worse local talent pools get more. From this, we can estimate what the clubs will have in 2015.
|2015 Territory Exceptions||Number (Estimated)|
|NYRB, NYCFC, LA, CHI, PHI||2|
|DAL, DC, HOU, NE, ORL, SEA, SJ, TOR||4|
|CLB, COL, SKC, RSL, VAN, POR||8|
With Atlanta United FC set to join MLS in 2017 and LAFC, Minnesota United FC, and Miami all named as MLS Expansion clubs, we can only speculate what their territories would be. An MLS spokesman said that nothing had been determined yet for any expansion clubs with regard to territory or exceptions. It's safe to speculate that LAFC would have a 75 mile radius and two exceptions - the same that Chivas USA had for its famed academy until its dissolution in 2015. Atlanta and Minnesota would probably also have a 75 mile radius and four to six exceptions, since the talent pools in the Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul areas are decent. Miami would most likely have all of Florida south of Orlando City's home stadium, save for a 25- to 75 mile radius around the Citrus Bowl, which is reminiscent of the Florida State-Miami recruiting wars that used Interstate 4 as the dividing line. I would also estimate Miami to be in the four to six exceptions range.
The system isn't perfect. It has areas of overlap, both by necessity (NYCFC and RBNY) and by design (Portland and Colorado in New Mexico). It's also open to exploitation - the Union signed 15 year old Jamaican Justin McMaster to the Academy back in 2014, meaning by the time he turns 18 he'll have met the residency requirements for the Union to sign him as a Homegrown Player, having lived in the territory and attended the Academy for more than a year. But that there is a system at all is indicative of how much stock the league puts into player development.
Special thanks to Susie Rantz with Sounder at Heart for the maps.