Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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No Union players chosen for MLS Homegrown game

Zach Pfeffer's omission from the showcase game for Major League Soccer's young players was especially surprising.

No Union players chosen for MLS Homegrown game

Zach Pfeffer. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union)
Zach Pfeffer. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union)

This post is now moot, because Pfeffer was eventually added to the Homegrown Game roster. Click here for the story.

In the Philadelphia Union's five-year history, the club's academy has produced three homegrown players: Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernández.

Though the trio has played a combined total of 264 first-team minutes in MLS games, each player has nonetheless achieved a fair share of fame in his career.

Pfeffer has become a stalwart with the U.S. U-20 national team. McLaughlin is currently lighting up USL Pro with the Harrisburg City Islanders. And you may remember when Hernández scored the winning goal in a friendly against Everton in 2011. You might not know that he was also the 2011 U.S. Soccer Under-17/18 Development Academy Player of the Year.

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In truth, though, only Pfeffer has gotten a real taste of life in the big leagues. And for all the money the Union have put into their academy - most notably the Wayne, Pa.,-based high school - that investment has not yet paid great dividends. No new homegrown players have joined the senior squad since those three did so in 2011.

Perhaps that has something to do with why the Union will have no representatives on the roster for the MLS Homegrown Game, which will be played on August 4 as part of All-Star Week festivies in Portland,

Or perhaps it's genuinely not related at all. The 20 players named to the squad Wednesday are all deserving of selection, and there are a lot more players who merit the honor.

It's definitely news, though, that no Union players will take part in the exhibition.

That McLaughlin and Hernández weren't picked is no surprise. McLaughlin hasn't been with the Union's senior squad for a league game since playing 17 minutes in 2012, and all of Hernández's 26 career first-team league minutes came in the same season.

But I was expecting Pfeffer to make the squad, which was selected by MLS Director of Player Programs Alfonso Modelo. He chose the final 20-player roster from a pool of players nominated by teams across MLS.

(Teams were not required to nominate players if they did not want to. D.C. United and FC Dallas opted out because their candidates will likely be playing in league games the night before the Homegrown Game. I was also told that New England opted its players out.)

Mondelo is a former New York/New Jersey MetroStars and Tampa Bay Mutiny head coach and U.S. national team assistant. He will coach the Homegrown squad against the Portland Timbers' Under-23 team in the game, which will take place at the Timbers' home, Providence Park.

Though Pfeffer's career has had plenty of ups and downs, the Dresher, Pa., native is still a fine example of what the Homegrown Player program can produce. Pfeffer's four first-team appearances this year are a career high, even though his total of 81 minutes played this year is below the 136 minutes he recorded in 2011.

Interim Union manager Jim Curtin used to run the team's academy, and coached Pfeffer before he joined the senior squad. There's every reason to believe Pfeffer will play at least 55 more minutes this year, and thus surpass 2011's total.

Over the course of Pfeffer's pro career, he has seen 221 minutes of first-team league action. That is 221 more than four selections to the Homegrown Team: Sporting Kansas City goalkeper Jon Kempin, Portland Timbers defender Steven Evans, Chivas USA forward Caleb Calvert and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Bradford Jamieson.

Yes, that's right: those four players have played zero league minutes with their clubs. Two other selections have played very few: Seattle Sounders forward Sean Okoli has 18, and San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson has one.

It's important to note that those numbers don't include U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and friendly match appearances. But league minutes are a key barometer of a player's worth to a club.

As I wrote above, I don't meant at all to claim that any those players aren't worthy of having been chosen for the Homegrown Game. Each has lots of promise, as you'll see from the bios linked to their names. This game will give them a marquee stage to show their worth.

You can be sure that there will be international scouts on hand for the showcase - including from German powerhouse Bayern Munich, this year's All-Star Game opponent. Indeed, some of the players selected are no doubt already being watched.

Sporting Kansas City defender Erik Palmer-Brown, another Homegrown Game selection, is being hotly pursued by Italian giant Juventus. Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin is a household name across America now after his stellar performance for the United States at the World Cup. Montréal Impact defender Karl W. Ouimette and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert have already played for Canada's senior national team.

I think Pfeffer deserves a place alongside them. 

And he may yet get a chance to go to Portland. If a player on the Homegrown Game roster gets named to the All-Star Game match roster, he will be withdrawn from the Homegrown Game, and a replacement will be named. 

I would not be surprised if as many as three Homegrown Game players are selected to the All-Star Game match roster: Yedlin, Chicago Fire midfielder Harrison Shipp and Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp. In that context, I'd say Pfeffer still has a shot.

The 18 players on the All-Star Game match roster will be named a few days after the fans' picks for the "First XI" nominations are announced on July 16. That announcement will take place during ESPN2's national broadcast of the Union-New York Red Bulls game at PPL Park.

I've been told that the likely date for announcing the match roster is July 19. ESPN2 has a doubleheader that day - Seattle vs. Tottenham and Kansas City vs. Los Angeles - so it would make sense.

Fan voting remains open until July 11. Click here to cast a ballot.

Caleb Porter, the coach of the Timbers and the All-Star team, will pick the match roster. He does not have to include the fans' selections. Porter's team will lock horns with Bayern on Wednesday, August 6 at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. ESPN2, UniMás, TSN and RDS will broadcast the showcase.

When all is said and done, there will be 32 players given All-Star recognition - and the bonuses that come with the honor. The number is set by MLS' collective bargaining agreement with its players. Its roots lie in the years when the All-Star game was contested with two teams of MLS players.

If you're going to the Rose City for All-Star Week, you can get free tickets to the Homegrown Game here. If you aren't going, you'll be able to watch the game free of charge online via ESPN3.com and MLSSoccer.com. Kickoff is set for 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Whether or not Pfeffer ends up in the game, Union fans ought to give it a look. You'll see a lot of promising young talent.

Here's hoping, too, that the Homegrown Game continues as an annual event. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have similar games as part of their All-Star festivities, as many of you know. MLS' emphasis on academies and player development makes the Homegrown Game a natural fit.

Below you'll find the full roster for the Homegrown Game. I have included statistics on each player's seasons and first-team minutes played in his career.

2014 Major League Soccer Homegrown Game Roster

Goalkeepers

Jon Kempin, Sporting Kansas City: 5 seasons / 0 minutes
Matt Lampson, Columbus Crew: 3 seasons / 1,310 minutes

Defenders

Connor Lade, New York Red Bulls: 3 seasons / 2,263 minutes
Wandrille Lefevre, Montréal Impact: 2 seasons / 861 minutes
Ashtone Morgan, Toronto FC: 4 seasons / 5,237 minutes
Shane O’Neill, Colorado Rapids: 3 seasons / 3,550 minutes
Karl W. Ouimette, Montréal Impact: 3 seasons / 1,326 minutes
Erik Palmer-Brown, Sporting Kansas City: 2 seasons / 235 minutes
DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders: 2 seasons / 3,670 minutes

Midfielders

Steven Evans, Portland Timbers: 2 seasons / 0 minutes
Chris Ritter, Chicago Fire: 1 season / 378 minutes
Harrison Shipp, Chicago Fire: 1 season / 1,195 minutes
Russell Teibert, Vancouver Whitecaps: 4 seasons / 3,193 minutes
Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew: 2 seasons / 2,526 minutes

Forwards

Caleb Calvert, Chivas USA: 2 seasons / 0 minutes
Bradford Jamieson, Los Angeles Galaxy: 1 season / 0 minutes
Sean Okoli, Seattle Sounders: 1 season / 18 minutes
Dillon Serna, Colorado Rapids: 2 seasons / 809 minutes
Tommy Thompson, San Jose Earthquakes: 1 season / 1 minute
Gyasi Zardes, Los Angeles Galaxy: 2 seasons / 2,788 minutes

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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