Road to Nowhere: Where does the academy lead? (Part 2)
Anthony Poulin; April 17, 2008
There was a player in the system, one that had received every bit of praise as the two high profile players before him, Matt Kassel. An NSCAA Adidas All-American, capped by the U-18's of the United States, and a player almost unanimously considered the best high school age player in New Jersey. A resume that far exceeds most players in this country let alone his age group. So obviously a player of that level would have to a no-brainier to graduate from the academy to the first team.
The news today that the club has decided to not sign Matt Kassel can only be described as shocking. So it begs the question, why?
The purpose of having a youth academy, one would assume, is to be able to channel long-term professional development of our area's best. The hope is that the cream of that crop can rise to the top and supply our club with higher quality talent, with which they can build a strong foundation of success. That sort of tactic requires the club to engage in continuing the player's training in the first team after academy graduation, because no kid is going to be 100% ready to be a full time starter directly out of the academy. It's called establishing a "pipeline", a gradual stepped development tier. It is a strategy that many of the top clubs throughout the world follow, and with great success. Bringing up a player into the first team, and giving them a few minutes in the season for a couple years until they are physically and mentally ready to be a full time contributor.
Some people insist that Kassel isn't "ready" right now. But those people miss the entire point of the development system. It isn't about what Kassel can contribute right now, it is about what him and future academy standouts can contribute over time. Building a developmental roster manned by talented youth players that can be groomed and professionally trained over several seasons supplies the team with the ultimate payoff. That payoff is having a fully operational pipeline where the quality domestic player product supplies the club with the backbone of the squad itself. No longer relying on 23-year-old NCAA grads as developmental players from obscure colleges, players that will be cut in 12 months anyway.
It also allows the club to effectively create a never-ending allocation stream, as many of these players would go the way of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley and transfer abroad where the team can retain the transfer fees and receive allocations to be used to pay down new signings in the future.
Matt Kassel was supposed to be the first, the pioneer of the system. He was supposed to signal the new age and be followed in the future by other academy players whom would use Kassel as an example of what could be achieved, that their professional dreams too are possible. What are these other academy players thinking now? If Kassel couldn't make it, what does it mean for them? The Red Bulls decided that the time is not now, and no one can understand why.
The rumor is that the club, despite having permission from MLS, refused to sign Kassel to a Generation Adidas contract. A contract that would have allowed Kassel to sign for a decent sum of money and not count towards the salary cap, a free player in every sense. Their rational for that refusal; Kassel isn't ready right now to be a key contributor and if they use the GA contract on him they won't be able to for another three seasons. Well what makes them think the next kid will be any different than Kassel? They could theoretically use the same excuse again. Never mind the fact that MLS rules change like the skin of a chameleon.
The bottom line is that the club doesn't get it. Not surprising if you have followed Metro for all these years. What was heralded as perhaps the greatest faction of the franchise, the youth academy, has now been reduced to a joke. Come witness the best youth program in MLS and their quest to get all their graduates into the NCAA where the only way you are going to break into the first team is if you are an uber-star at 18 and can contribute immediately. But to Red Bull this is an acceptable path to follow, they are quick to point out how wonderful playing for Maryland will be; effectively saying that they think the NCAA is a more effective training environment than their own; that is quite a damning self admission. To make matters worse, a quote from Jeff Agoos about Kassel yesterday revealed his ignorance, "My hope at some point is that we can sign him," Agoos said, "whether it's next year or a few years down the road. That's up to Matt." Earth to Agoos, you could have signed him yesterday, paid for by MLS and cap exempt.
This decision was so much more than passing on a player; this decision was complete indictment of the front office to effectively run this club. It should worry fans because it sends the message that the team does not understand the proper use of their best attributes within the academy system. If they could screw up such a no brain decision as this, what else can/will the get wrong in the future? Strap yourself in for the ride people, because we are about to take a trip down the road to nowhere. First stop, the Red Bulls Youth Academy.