Some of the biggest news around MLS last week was about player signings, but they weren't the traditional signings that normally make the headlines. In fact, they were the antithesis of the traditional MLS headline signings.
Last week, Atlanta United announced their first Homegrown Player, 15-year-old Andrew Carleton, and just yesterday D.C. United revealed 16-year-old Chris Durkin as that club's newest player. Both have had their fair share of appearances with the U.S. Under-17s and they represent a growing trend around the league.
MLS has steadily been getting younger as the talent pool deepens and academies prosper. It looks like a veritable arms race as younger and younger prospects join the league in some form or another. But while their southeastern counterparts will get all of the fanfare and media attention for signing the next generational American star, Orlando City will sit quietly and watch.
The Lions don't need to bring in a high school freshman. Doing so would probably be counterproductive for the player's development and the team. The main goal during their time in MLS has always been to win with youth and -- in the face of pundits who said that MLS experience was necessary -- they went on to have one of the most successful expansion seasons in league history.
Orlando doesn't need a player like Carleton or Durkin right now. That's not to say having a young potential star in the academy is ever a bad thing; the league signing younger talent and getting them into a professional atmosphere earlier is beneficial for U.S. soccer as a whole. But Orlando City is already so far ahead compared to some MLS teams, the Lions don't need to worry about making a splash.
It's easy to see where Orlando has had early success. You'll find him at the heart of their defense every weekend. At only 19, Tommy Redding has become a starting-caliber center back in MLS. You can see similarities between the roster that Atlanta United is building and what Orlando City started MLS with. The oldest player they have signed to date is Junior Burgos, a 27-year-old midfielder, and they've surrounded him with young, international prospects.
But while Atlanta's academy is just getting off the ground, Orlando's has flourished. The club has already produced four Homegrown signings and three have already had a significant impact at the professional level. We've already talked about Redding. In addition, Harrison Heath has asserted himself in front of Antonio Nocerino in the pecking order in central midfield, while Tyler Turner has flashed his potential with both Orlando City B and the first team. Mason Stajduhar, though he has yet to make his professional debut, has already been called up to the U.S. U-20 team.
International transfers have also been on the young end for the most part. Bryan Róchez and Devron Garcia both have experience in Honduras' youth setup and the same can be said for Cristian Higuita and Carlos Rivas with Colombia and Rafael Ramos and the now-departed Estrela with Portugal. This is all without the SuperDraft, where the Lions have been fortunate enough to have players with international experience like Cyle Larin, Conor Donovan and Richie Laryea drop into their laps. The club is building through development and it's one of the pillars of long-standing success in the modern soccer world. I've already written about how the young players of Orlando City B can help the first team, but the health of a soccer club has always been based in a large part on its ability to produce its own, cheap talent.
And while Orlando is chock full of young talent in the professional ranks, the club is prepared to reload from its academy if necessary. Much has been said about Raul Aguilera Jr., a young central midfielder who was called into the U.S. U-18 camp in Guadalajara last month even though he's only 16. Aguilera has already made appearances with the first team during the preseason and has been consistently linked with a pro deal in Orlando. You can find his name on Orlando City B's official roster along with several other academy standouts like Esteban Carmona as part of USL's five academy players allowed to participate during the regular season.
It's not just midfielders that the Lions are producing like crazy. Forward Nathaniel Adamolekun has been a regular for Jamaica's U-17 side and was rated as the No. 78 overall prospect in this year's college recruiting class (he committed to North Carolina). He made some waves in last year's U-17 CONCACAF Championships, and you can check out his highlights here:
Orlando City is one of the catalysts for changing the makeup of league rosters. The club's intent to produce a young, competitive roster and its success in doing so is in stark contrast to a league that has so far relied on aging international superstars. While clubs like Orlando, FC Dallas, and Vancouver continue to sign and produce young talent, the rest of the league is playing catch-up.