Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Difficult: Getting Young Players Significant Minutes in Major League Soccer

Or keeping them once they begin to show better than average MLS ability?

Answer: Keeping quality young players, especially those in which you have invested money and first team minutes.

This catch 22 effects the Columbus Crew no differently than any other team in MLS. The better the organization is at finding rough gems and then polishing those gems into a quality Major League Soccer players, the greater the chance the organization will lose that player.

Now, that is no different across sports. Quality is always in demand. But, the consistently competitive (striving for MLS Cup titles, entry into CCL and Supporters Shield trophies) teams, especially those without deep-pocketed owners willing to splash Dempsey/Bradley money on transfer fees and salaries, have one thing in common. They find ways to keep the majority of their talented twenty-something-year-olds in the fold.

The Columbus Crew possess the largest group of Major League Soccer emerging, young, tested and proven talent. The proof is in this season's results, a record of 8 wins 8 losses 9 ties. The proof is in the plus 3 goal differential. The proof is in the 1.4 goals per game average. And finally, the proof is in the collection of young talent which has played significant minutes this year, and in some cases for three years running.

Bernardo Anor--26yr.--Hard working, flexible midfielder who adds the occasional goal

Ethan Finlay--24yr--Dynamic wing/forward who is showing signs of future 15-20 goal seasons

Waylon Francis--23yr--Speedy defensive left back, good on the cross, likes to get forward

Eric Gehrig--26yr--Long time project who is beginning to "get it" Role player, but very valuable

Hector Jimenez--25yr--Right sided mid/defender, good fit for Berhalter's system

Justin Meram--25yr--Another potential 15 goal scorer

Tony Tchani--25yr--Holding mid, manager has kept the faith and is being rewarded

Will Trapp--21yr--Holding mid, good young player with great upside still untapped

Josh Williams--26yr--Tough role player. Still needs to improve decision making and skill set

The Columbus Crew are at Major League Soccer's version of the tipping point. If the Black and Gold can keep the above young players (along with Higuain, Parkhurst and Clark) during this off-season, they will be well on their way to making the 2015 playoffs.

Losing even two or three of the youngsters throws next season into doubt. Keeping all of them and then adding two or three Higuain level players with our available allocation dollars and next year's larger salary cap puts the Columbus Crew in striking distance of Supporters Shield contender.

The Crew's under 26 crowd is a hard won group. They are a group which can play in this league. To lose them now is to trust the 2015 season to unproven youngsters and hoped for chemistry amongst new signings, unproven talent and two or three veterans.

Never underestimate the value of MLS tested players. DC United is a perfect example. United signed a number of MLS veterans in the off-season. It took a couple weeks, but those MLS veterans in DC gelled and now they are in 1st place.

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