Feb 5, 2013

Andy Najar to RSC Anderlecht--Who is the Next Homegrown Player

In a not completely unexpected move, DC United Midfielder/Right Back Andy Najar completed a transfer to Belgian side RSC Anderlecht for an undisclosed fee, but believed to be somewhere between $2 million and $3 million.  After Najar's first year in the league, at age 17, you could see Najar was going places and that his time with DC United was limited--barring injury.  Now at the no longer tender age of 19, Najar is (already) in Europe.  If he keeps the current pace of progression up, expect that within 3 years, Najar is playing in one of the top four leagues in Europe.

But the big news is Najar's transfer is the first MLS Homegrown player to be transferred abroad, and for a not insubstantial sum of money, most of which goes to DC United, rather than MLS.  That begs the question,  who is next among the current crop of homegrown players that could be on the sale block for transfer overseas?

Certainly, with MLS in full pre-season, there is no certainty about rosters.  But at this link is a list of homegrown players that have been signed by MLS clubs, starting with Tristan Bowen (L.A. Galaxy) in 2008 to Michael Seaton (DC United) a little over two weeks ago.  So far, a total of 66 players have been signed to homegrown contracts, but not many of them have seen significant minutes as players.  Of the 66 signed so far, eight have been signed in the current off-season so clearly unable to have any contribution in 2012.

Of the remaining 57, 38 were active in 2012.  Of that 38, only 25 saw ANY minutes whatsoever.  Only ten homegrown players saw more than 200 minutes:

  1. Brent Richards (Portland)--201 min.
  2. Tristan Bowen (Chivas USA)--248 min.
  3. Diego Fagundez (New England)--770 min.
  4. Eric Gehrig (Columbus)--812 min
  5. Doneil Henry (Toronto)--1139 min.
  6. Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA & New York)--1570 min.
  7. Andy Najar (DC United)--2045 Min.
  8. Bill Hamid (DC United)--2087 Min.
  9. Connor Lade (New York)--2088 Min.
  10. Ashtone Morgan (Toronto)--2528 Min.

To be realistic, it is probably only the list from Henry to Morgan who we can realistically think about potential transfers to Europe in the next two-three years.

So of the players, Henry, Agudelo, Hamid, Lade and Morgan, who is most likely to go?

Of course, lots of people expect that Juan Agudelo will be the next player to transfer to Europe.  Agudelo scored only three goals last season, for an average of one goal every 523 minutes, or almost once in every SIX games.  Agudelo is going to have to score more if he is going to impress as a striker.  True, he spent most of the season with Chivas, a team that managed a paltry 24 goals all season, but if Agudelo is going to garner attention from clubs across the Atlantic Ocean, he had better start finding the back of the net with some regularity.  It is true that Agudelo has a lot of talent as a striker, but you get paid to score as a striker.

As a young goalkeeper, Bill Hamid has progressed miles in the past two seasons since winning the starting job for the Black & Red.  There is no denying that Hamid is a fabulous shot stopper.  He is also comfortable taking the cross and has gotten very good at directing his defenders.  But the knock on Hamid, and rightfully so, is that he cannot control his emotions.  I do see Hamid making a move overseas, but since goalkeepers typically have long careers, see Keller, Kasey and Freidel, Brad, he will benefit from a couple more seasons with DC United before making a move.

Connor Lade looks like he is 15 and is a long way from a move overseas.  Yes, he is a fine right back, but he needs to improve in just about all areas of his game to get beyond the MLS level.  He has a tendency to get burned on defense and he is not a sharp with his attacking play as he needs to be.  Lade is a good MLS right back, but that is not going  to earn him a transfer.  If New York can get their head out of the collective backsides, and the drama in the dressing room is minimized, Lade may have a solid future.  The question is whether Mike Petke and Robin Fraser can develop the talent.

Looking like a classic centerback is nothing for Doneil Henry.  Tall, but not too lanky; strong, but not slow; Henry has the physical tools to be a good centerback.  However, he needs some time to strengthen both his technical game, to play out of the back and improve his decision making.  but Henry is getting time with the Canadian U20 squad and spent time with the senior Canandian Squad, seeing impressive minutes against the United States.  What is good for Henry (besides youth and talent)?  His coach is Ryan Nelsen, a coach who has played at the highest levels as a centerback.  It is possible to see Henry make big strides this year.

Ashtone Morgan is complete defender, gifted with speed, good defensive skills and an attacking verve that should improve with a few more games.  Morgan, although just approaching age 22, has been a solid two year contributor.  Morgan is perhaps in the best position of all of these five players to make a quick move overseas.  He has been consistent in his play, has made contributions to the attack with five assists last year and two assists in 2011 when he first earned starts for Toronto.  Despite the general shambles of the Toronto front office in recent years, the fact that they identified both Morgan and Henry and have brought them along well is a positive sign for the Canadian side.

If I had to place odds on which of these players moves abroad in the next two years, I would put my money on Morgan.

What do you think?  Can Hamid mature sooner?  Will the Canucks claim the next homegrown player transfer?  Can Agudelo live up to the promise?

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