In 2007, Major League Soccer launched a new initiative called the Homegrown Player Rule as a way to incentivize teams to invest in their academies. The purpose of the rule was to allow clubs that have developed players in their academies to retain the rights to those players rather than losing them to the whims of the MLS SuperDraft. With Orlando City having signed its fifth Homegrown Player in Benji Michel and news that it tried to sign Santiago Patino to a Homegrown deal, we look into the rules of what qualifies a player to qualify for the designation.
The Homegrown Player Rule
In its simplest form, the Homegrown Player Rule states that a player must play for the MLS club’s academy and reside in its territory for one year prior to attending a four-year college or signing a professional contract. Specifically, the player is eligible to be added to the club’s Homegrown Player list once he has been in the academy for one full year, having entered during his junior or senior year of high school or the academy season of their 17th or 18th birthday.
Once a player has entered the academy, there are specific requirements that must be met in order for him to be eligible as a Homegrown Player. Usually, the player must reside within the club’s designated territory with a parent or legal guardian; however, sometimes a club can claim a player outside of that territory if he is from an area not covered by another club’s territory.
On the field, the player must have joined the academy prior to making any appearances for the United States national teams (U-17, U-18, U-19, U-20, or U-23), and must have 150 days of attendance with the club in a year. Attendance days include training and games with the club’s academy.
Following graduation from the academy and entrance into a four-year school, the player must be added to the club’s Homegrown Player list to be eligible. To keep the player from entering the MLS SuperDraft, the club must extend a contract prior to the draft or they will lose his rights.
A common term regarding the Homegrown Player Rule is “territories.” A Homegrown territory is the area from which a club can draw its Homegrown talent. The purpose of this is to keep clubs from going into areas occupied by other clubs and taking players. Most of these boundaries range from between 75 and 100 miles from the clubs’ stadiums. Orlando City’s current territory is central and north Florida, up to the Georgia and Alabama border. The south part of the state will be occupied by Inter Miami, which is planned to begin play in 2020.
While the Homegrown territory is certainly still a part of the Homegrown process, there have been reports that it could be going away soon. A report from Paul Tenorio of The Athletic ($) says that according to multiple technical directors, the league is considering getting rid of Homegrown territories, which would allow clubs to obtain players from anywhere.
If a player is eligible to sign as a Homegrown, and has been added to the Homegrown list prior to attending college, the club retains his rights until making a deal to move him to another team within the league. Examples of this regarding Orlando City are Mikey Ambrose and Tony Rocha, who decided to sign with the Austin Aztex rather than MLS contracts with FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City. In order to sign these players from Orlando City B to the first team, the Lions had to trade with those clubs to obtain the MLS rights to those players.
Orlando City and the Homegrown Rule
When Orlando City first entered MLS in 2015, it did so with two players listed as Homegrown; Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding. Neither of these players were technically Homegrown by the rules, as they had both been in the U.S. U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton but were still allowed to sign Homegrown contracts, presumably due to the fact that the club was new to the league. Harrison Heath was also signed to a Homegrown contract despite having not spent the necessary time in the club’s academy.
The first true Homegrown Player Orlando City signed was goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar in November of 2015. The young goalkeeper joined the Orlando City academy from Chargers SC in Tampa, a youth club that would later become a partner for the Lions.
Orlando City fell into the trappings of the Homegrown Player Rule following the 2016 season when the Lions tried to sign academy graduate Pierre Da Silva. The midfielder moved to Florida from New York and joined U.S. Soccer’s U-17 Residency Program prior to joining Orlando City’s academy in 2015. The club attempted to sign him to a Homegrown contract following the 2016 season but was unable to due to his ineligibility.
This off-season has seen Orlando City attempt to sign multiple Homegrown Players and that list is bound to grow with the talented players currently in college and signing with OCB out of the academy. Hopefully this column helps provide a little more insight into the eligibility of these players.