Each year during the MLS SuperDraft, a select few players have a built-in advantage over the rest of the pack jostling to start a pro career thanks to the Generation adidas program — a joint effort by the league and U.S. Soccer aimed at jump-starting promising youth careers.
Players can enter the league before graduating college or even entering college, inking deals that pay well above the MLS minimum.
It’s a sweet deal for the 175 players who’ve signed under the program since it was established in 1997.
For MLS teams, drafting a Generation adidas player is beneficial because the salary is paid by the league and the player doesn’t occupy a senior roster spot, keeping his salary off the books as far as the salary cap.
But the real advantage in drafting a Generation player is patience with respect to a player’s development.
“It takes the pressure off making a decision on him, because if he’s not ready but he’s hitting the cap then you probably have to get rid of him,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “This way, I can be patient and that’s what’s great.”
Generally on the young side, Generation adidas players are always talented but not necessarily MLS ready.
Rather than rush a player onto the field, the window created through the Generation adidas program — usually about three years — allows for a player to be brought along slowly if needed.
Sometimes, that player doesn’t pan out, but there are also players like Chance Myers, who was selected No. 1 overall in 2008 before playing sparingly his first three seasons.
“Maybe if I was somewhere else, they’d be fed up with me and kick me to the curb,” Myers said. “I was fortunate the coaches had faith enough to let me progress and get better. Hopefully, they could see my progression even though I wasn’t playing a lot and were able to see something was there.”
Myers battled asthma problems during his first three seasons, when he appeared in 31 games but made only 13 starts and logged fewer than 475 minutes on average.
Now, Myers is entrenched as Sporting KC’s starter at right defensive back. He’s made 58 appearances, including 52 starts during the last two seasons in helping the club claim back-to-back Eastern Conference regular-season championships.
“You want to see improvement along the way,” Vermes said. “That’s one thing with all these guys, you don’t want to get to a place where you’re stagnant … but, again, (Generation adidas) gives you the opportunity to spend time with them and hopefully help them grow.”
Drafted No. 11 in 2008 a few spots behind Myers, the then-Wizards also snagged Roger Espinoza, who was another Generation adidas signing and made only 18 starts in his first two seasons. But he emerged as a hero for Honduras in the 2012 London Olympics before transferring to Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League two months ago.
Clearly, the patience afforded Sporting KC through Generation adidas has paid off and may again with its 2012 first-round pick, forward Dom Dwyer, who only logged four minutes in one appearance as a rookie but he had the luxury of not worrying about job security.
“There’s maybe a little bit less pressure, because you know you’re guaranteed for a couple years and they don’t have to rush you into things straight away,” Dwyer said. “You don’t have to go crazy trying to prove yourself in preseason.”
Similarly, this season’s first-round pick, midfielder Mikey Lopez, might be hard pressed to find minutes in a crowded senior-roster mix that includes veterans Benny Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura.
Since both Dwyer and Lopez are Generation adidas players, Sporting KC won’t have its hand forced into making a rash decision about either player anytime soon.
“For sure, you can be more patient with him, but that doesn’t mean you just push him off to the side,” Vermes said. “If he’s ready, he’s ready. I’m not taking the easy road and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got all this time.’ ”
Still, it’s nice to know that time is available if Sporting KC needs it.