In previous years, MLS academy recruiting was confined by its designated “homegrown territory”. However, with the changes instilled last year, things going forward are changing. Homegrown territory sizes vary for each club but on average are a radius of 75 to 125 miles from the club’s stadium. In the past, clubs owned the homegrown rights to any and all players within that radius – no more. Homegrown territories are still valid, but now MLS teams will be allowed to place up to 54 players on their youth player-protected lists: 45 who play in their academy and nine who aren’t in their academy but who live in their “homegrown territory.” Players who are rostered to a club’s academy but are not on their protected list can move to another club’s academy and eventually sign homegrown deals with that club’s first team, but the players’ new clubs will have to pay their old clubs a set amount in order to acquire them.
Per the Athletic: Under the new rules, players who live in an MLS homegrown territory but are neither rostered to an MLS academy nor on a homegrown priority list will now be able to move freely to MLS clubs based outside of their territory. Teams will not have to pay any compensation to other MLS teams for said players. Within each club’s 54-player protected list, teams must protect a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20 players from their respective under-15 and under-17 MLS Next academy teams. Teams also must protect a minimum of five and a maximum of 15 players from the under-19 age group. Of the nine non-registered players protected from within a team’s homegrown territory, a maximum of five can be protected from any specific age group. If an MLS team does not field an under-19 academy team, it can only protect a maximum of 40 registered academy players.
So, what does this mean for players, scouts and agents? It certainly means more freedom for players which means more need for proper agency support and scouting decision making. It seems crazy now looking back at it, but before this change players in the US were under the control of MLS academies within their region whether they played for them or not. Thankfully this has changed. Which gives more power to the players to choose a club they are happy with and thus more need for guidance, scouting, and intermediary support for professional academy players.