View from the Booth: Investing in youth good for club, and country

Promoting players from within is lacking in England, but promising in Colorado

View from the Booth - Andrew Epstein

Photo Credit: 
ColoradoRapids.com

Germany has it. I'd suggest Spain has it, too. England, sadly, doesn't.

And, yes, I'd even say the USA is pretty close to it, also.

What am I talking about?

Striking a balance between having a cosmopolitan, strong domestic league, whilst also being able to provide for the national side at all levels.

In a weekend which witnessed five Academy players feature on the Rapids Reserves roster, the USA's national team took another step toward the 2014 World Cup with a 2-1 win over Jamaica.

The Rapids are not unique in realizing that there's no place like home.

Rapids Report: O'Neill Feature

Spain and Germany have dazzled domestically, and also wowed fans worldwide on the international stage.

England regularly boasts at having the best league in the world - it's certainly the most lucrative. Sadly, it comes at a cost.

There will have been lots of head-scratching in recent days, to be followed by navel-gazing and plenty of soul-searching, as England's U21s failed miserably at the European Championship in Israel. The side slipped out at the group stage, their fate sealed with a 3-1 defeat by Norway on Saturday.

Research carried out by the CIES Football Observatory revealed last week that the playing time of English soccer players under the age of 21 in the Premier League has fallen to its lowest ever level. In short, English soccer is failing to invest in long-term projects to produce home-grown talent, instead opting for short-term foreign fixes.

It's no coincidence that where the England national side is lacking depth (goalkeeper, defence and attack) is where the Premier League is awash with talent from outside the mother country. I'd say England has a world-class keeper in Joe Hart … but that's about it. Even Wayne Rooney's star has dimmed in recent times.

That's not to say that English clubs do not invest heavily in youth academies. They invest greatly, but they also plough large amounts of money into a global scouting network that is forever scouring the globe for the best young talent.

Chelsea are probably the worst example when it comes to overlooking local lads. Their U21 squad last season was made up of 31 players - 20 of whom were non-English!

Cabrera and Epstein on Reserves win

But they're not alone. An article back in February highlighted six Arsenal Academy players who were destined for great things. Of those, two are English, three are German and one is Spanish.

Add to that the established stars snapped up by the top sides, ready-made to step into the first team, and it's clear to see why the future looks pretty bleak for England's national sides.

For all the giant strides made by the EPL, England's national side - with visions of grandeur - has failed to flourish, regularly falling short of the inexplicably high expectations.

The warning signs have been flagged time and again. Unfortunately, the EPL is king in England and unlikely to kill the cash cow just to ‘gamble’ on unproven home hopefuls.

Thankfully, it appears MLS has taken note.

Rapids' Senior Director of Youth Development, Brian Crookham - on noting the Rapids Reserves roster – tweeted on Saturday: 'Tonight is proof that a clear development path now exists to the highest levels of American soccer.'

Shane O'Neill, Dillon Serna, Davy Armstrong, Andrew Epstein, Brad Holub, Bryan Windsor, Alex Braman and Ricardo Perez are all recent examples of how the Rapids are giving local youth a chance.

Dillon Serna credits Academy

And I would suggest the reasons for this approach are many and varied.

First, the money does not exist within MLS to lure the world's best (yet).

Second, a successful national side is still needed to help grow the game in the USA (not so in England). As a consequence, MLS clubs recognize the importance of bringing USA-born talent through.

And third, the draft system is all well and good in most other North American sports, but why wait until the player has left college and is into his early 20s? Soccer clubs realize there are gems to be unearthed earlier and earlier - Shane O'Neill's a perfect example.

I'm butchering a well-known quote when I suggest: "Give a club a good player and they will succeed for a season or two. Create a system where good players can develop, and that club will savor success over a sustained period." Manchester United, Barcelona and Lyon, to name but three in this category.

Saturday's roster should fill fans with hope. It doesn't mean untold riches will follow, but it confirms that the Rapids have plans in place to promote from within.

That's got to be good for club and country … and MLS.