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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TFC Academy over MLS Draft way forward for The Reds

Sign of the future?

With the majority of Toronto FC's management staff, both new and old, gathered at the MLS Combines, we ponder if future pre-seasons will devote as many resources to the league's SuperDraft. Since Aron Winter and his "Oranje Revolution" cohorts were named to lead TFC into the future, the words most heard have been “youth”, “academy”, “philosophy” and “development”. It is no secret that the long-term goal is to foster a smaller version of the famed Ajax Academy system here in Toronto and in interviews last week, Winter made it clear that a strong TFC Academy could eventually make The Reds' participation in the Draft redundant at best.
Is it realistic to picture a scenario where TFC Academy regularly feeds the First Team like so many other major clubs around the world? In its first few years, TFC Academy has taken baby steps in developing local talent and it began to pay dividends with the first professional graduates Doneil Henry and Nicholas Lindsay in 2010. If Team Winter manages to revolutionize the academy over the next few years the way they would like, and for now it seems like all are on board, it isn't beyond reason to imagine a crop of youngsters feeding into TFC annually. There are seemingly far more positives to dedicating resources to the TFC Academy and away from the NCAA draft system...
A strong local academy knits Toronto FC into the local football and general sporting fabric at an organic, grassroots level. Having a local home-based destination for young, bright prospects gives those players a goal in which to pursue their football dreams with the possibility of a pro career at the end and makes TFC a club that can make local dreams come true. That kind of positive image can't be bought on commercials.
If implementing the "TFC: Total Football Club" philosophy is as important as Winter claims, then training players in that style from their mid-teens is far more advantageous than drafting an NCAA product. The collegiate draftee in most cases is already in their early 20's and has just come from a 4-year crash course in another coach’s style. "Un-learning" that style, then catching up to the TFC style makes that player 23 years old where an academy product is tactically ready at 19.
Canadian MLS rivals Vancouver and Montreal both have established academies and have been collecting talent from their geographic areas (and sometimes Toronto's) for many years. When Montreal joins the league in 2012 there will be a premium on finding Canadian talent (in a fairly shallow pool) and breeding your own young Canadians will be imperative.
In a league where salary parity eliminates the advantages of a financially superior club, academy investment is a way for more successful clubs to flex some of their money-muscle and/or football smarts. Clubs who take the time to build better facilities, hire the best staff and create the smartest philosophies can find a way to supersede the SuperDraft (which can always become something of a lottery with few "sure-thing" prospects), as well as MLS salary cap/ transfer restrictions.
For TFC in particular there are two selfish reasons to invest in the Academy over the Draft. On the field, The Reds can get a major jump on many teams talent-wise in a league where less than 50% of their rivals have established youth set-ups. US clubs are coming around slowly but most have yet to join the academy revolution giving the likes of TFC a head start. And finally, if the MLSE board needs a little help swallowing it... there are possible big pay-offs down the line if a local prospect comes good and European clubs come around sniffing with wads of Euros in hand. A potentially big profit awaits from a modest investment. 

Of course much of this "future" MLS landscape is subjective but as the league grows closer ties to the world football community, the academy system is likely to follow. For now, the NCAA draft is going nowhere, not enough MLS clubs have invested in youth to be able to stock their rosters properly without it. Drafts are considered an exciting, fun and very North American tradition which many of our friends down south will want to protect. However, it isn't a football tradition, and much like running penalty kicks, countdown clocks and 2-point goals it will eventually go the way of the footy dodo. All the more reason for MLSE to give the full set of keys to Winter, Mariner and the gang immediately, so for once, TFC can lead… not follow.


  1. Agree the academy could be huge in the future if done right, so it should have a cool nickname. Given the nationality of new braintrust and philosophy, here's my proposal.

    The Dutch Oven.

  2. Duncan, our blogger from another mother, that is awesome. The Dutch Oven is The Academy's name from here on. With our combined blogging power this name could literaly reach dozens!

    For those who haven't, click on Duncan's name for a top TFC/ footy blog.

    Cheers mate!