The San Jose Earthquakes took a huge step toward bridging the gap between their first team and their Academy program, becoming just the fourth MLS franchise to add a Premier Development League team to their ranks. The Quakes join the Chicago Fire, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps as the MLS teams that have added the under-23 team to their stable. San Jose will begin play in the 2014 season in the league’s Western Conference.
Academy technical director and coach of the Earthquakes U-14 squad Chris Leitch thinks the impact will be widespread throughout the franchise.
“It’s a necessary component for our continued development, and it has definitely created a positive buzz around the organization," he said, noting that the new team will provide stability throughout all levels and allow Academy alums to come back from college and compete at the highest level on our continent. “I’ve been getting texts and calls from all sorts of former players saying they can’t wait to get back and be a part of it.”
There is good reason for the players’ excitement, as the PDL has been a proven feeder system into MLS for years. More than 150 PDL alumni have been selected in the MLS SuperDraft in the past 5 years. This includes the last two number 1 picks, Andrew Wenger (Carolina Dynamo) in 2012 and Andrew Farrell (River City Rovers) in 2013. The last two MLS Rookie of the Year winners are also PDL products, C.J. Sapong (Reading United) in 2011 and Austin Berry (Chicago Fire) in 2012.
The Quakes hope to keep their homegrown Academy talent in the black and blue for many years to come and this new team will give them the ability to accomplish such a feat. “This will give us integrated development at every age group," said Leitch. "It will help to keep guys in our system and provide us the opportunity to have our players stay with us for a long time. It will serve as a great proving ground and also an opportunity for guys that might not have been able to play college soccer.”
Not to mention the fact that, since the college season is so short, the new program will give college-aged players the chance to continue their advancement toward the professional level during the off-season.
Some of the first teams have already seen dividends paid with their homegrown players. The Seattle Sounders’ DeAndre Yedlin was a PDL All-League honoree in 2012, and the Portland Timbers’ Brent Richards was the 2010 PDL MVP.
With the results that the PDL has produced to date, it's no wonder Leitch's phone is blowing up with texts and calls from former players wanting a piece of the action.
- Richter Media