Johnny Exantus
Road to Nowhere: Where does the academy lead?
Anthony Poulin; April 17, 2008

To many fans of the New York Red Bulls today's news that Academy standout Matt Kassel will not be signed by the club; and instead be off to the University of Maryland will be greeted with momentary disappointment then indifference. But to those that have closely followed this program the news is far more damaging.

Back in January of 2003, much-maligned MetroStars GM Nick Sakiewicz made perhaps his most important, yet least known initiative when he announced that the club would field a U-17 team to compete in the Super Y League. "This under-17 team is a crucial part of our ongoing youth development program, " said Sakiewicz. "We are taking the next step forward towards completing a fully integrated development system."

You see, back then the most effort given to youth development had been running summer camps and quickie programs in an effort to market and pander to youth soccer's potential customer market. But the MetroStars, while still staying true to that marketing strategy, decided to take a risk and implement an entire academy system for multiple age groups despite knowing MLS would not allow them to reap any rewards for those efforts.

Not only did the new academy teams start playing, but they were winning. In 2005 the MetroStars Youth had won a U-16 National Title, placed third at the world renown Dallas Cup, and were finalists or semifinalists in multiple age groups. In addition to the team successes, several individual players were noted as standouts with professional potential. One such MetroStars youth player became the poster child of the MLS Youth Initiatives, which was pushed by another maligned former Metro GM, Alexi Lalas. The player was Johnny Exantus.

Lalas had this to say at the time; "For the past few years, the MetroStars have spent considerable time, resources and money on our youth development programs. Johnny Exantus is already a member of the MetroStars family and we think he has the ability to make the jump to our senior team. It would be a crime for another MLS club to reap the benefits of our investment." What happened is MLS said no, and Exantus never played for the senior team. However, the league eventually caved in later that year and announced that they were setting up rules and mandates for youth academy players to address Lalas' concerns.

It was also at this time that another MetroStars youth standout jumped to the pros, the only problem was it wasn't for Metro/Red Bull, it was Sampdoria of Italian Serie A. That player was also a part of the national title winning 2005 U-16 team, Gabe Ferrari. While the disappointment of losing two potential good players due to MLS's failure to allow them to sign for us, we all took solace in the fact that if we had those two we must have others, and in 2008 MLS was going to allow these players to join the club so we should finally betaking advantage of that... right? Shockingly the answer seems to be no.

So excuse the long prologue, but it is important to paint the backdrop to this news.

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