The New York Red Bulls recently signed 2019 Super Draft pick Sean Nealis to a first team contract. Sean is the second “Sean” on the team (after Sean Davis), the 6th New Yorker on the team, and the 12th player from NY, NJ, or CT (including Ryan Meara, Evan Louro, Kyle Duncan, Tim Parker, Connor Lade, Omir Fernandez, Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Ben Mines, Brian White, and Derrick Etienne Jr.). As I noted on twitter, you could make a semi-functional starting XI out of these 12 players (4-4-2):
White – Etienne
Mines – Davis – Fernandez – Muyl
Lade – Nealis – Parker – Duncan
(Meara and Louro are both Goalkeepers)
Fernandez is the only player here who is obviously out of position. Most prefer Etienne play on the wing, but he has spent time up top in the past, and I’m not sure if Ben Mines is comfortable playing on the left wing. But those are small quibbles you might see in any game-day roster. This would never be the first choice lineup, but I think this XI could play a US Open Cup game against a USL team. In that game, Parker, Meara, and Davis would easily be the best players on the field, Muyl, Etienne, White, Lade, and Duncan would all look comfortable. Fernandez and Nealis are more or less unknown quantities at this point so I won’t make any claims there. Point is, this team would be competitive. I think it goes without saying that they would struggle against most MLS teams.
Regardless, this got me wondering, “How many other MLS teams could make similar claims of showcasing local talent?” So I did some digging. Below you can find every other MLS team and how many players grew up near where that team is located. This is relatively loosely defined, since I’m counting NJ and CT for the New York Red Bulls I have to be lenient for teams like New England, Kansas City, Cincinnati, etc. who are all near state borders/cover multiple states.
Atlanta United – 5 (All Georgia)
Chicago Fire – 4 (All Illinois)
FC Cincinnati – 4 (1 Ohio, 3 Michigan)
Colorado Rapids – 6 (All Colorado)
Columbus Crew – 5 (4 Ohio, 1 Michigan)
FC Dallas – 8 (All Texas)
DC United – 7 (4 Maryland, 3 Virginia)
Houston Dynamo – 3 (All Texas)
LAFC – 3 (All Southern California)
LA Galaxy – 8 (All Southern California)
Minnesota United – 3 (2 Minnesota, 1 Wisconsin)
Montreal Impact – 9 (All Quebec)
New England Revolution – 6 (5 Massachusetts, 1 Rhode Island)
NYCFC – 4 (All New York)
RBNY – 12 (6 New York, 5 New Jersey, 1 Connecticut)
Orlando City SC – 2 (Both Florida)
Philadelphia Union – 7 (4 Pennsylvania, 2 Delaware, 1 New Jersey)
Portland Timbers – 2 (1 Oregon, 1 Washington)
Real Salt Lake – 2 (Both Utah)
San Jose Earthquakes – 7 (All Northern California)
Seattle Sounders – 3 (All Washington)
Sporting Kansas City – 3 (All Kansas)
Toronto FC – 10 (All Ontario)
Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 (All British Columbia)
The answer to my question seems to be no, but some teams do come close. Toronto came closest with 10, and Montreal is right behind them with 9. I also wasn’t simply counting any Homegrown player, as many Homegrown territories spread far enough away that those players are hardly “local talent”. For example, Real Salt Lake have more Homegrowns from Arizona than they do from Utah. Since the Arizona border is approximately 7.5 hours from Salt Lake City it’s hardly fair to call those players local. I also limited San Jose to Northern California and both LA teams to Southern California, which made a difference by 2 or 3 players in all cases. All Three Canadian teams have relatively large territories but restricting them to their nominal city and immediate suburbs didn’t make a difference in any case.
Additionally, I was counting more than just Homegrown players. I was also counting any player who grew up in the area. For example, Tim Parker grew up on Long Island, was drafted by Vancouver, and was then traded to RBNY. He still counts as a local guy. This boosted numbers across the board, not helping any one team more than the others.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at a European club for comparison. I chose Ajax since they are known for having one of the best academies in the world (not a direct correlation to showcasing local talent, but I digress). Since the Netherlands is a relatively small country, I counted any Dutch player as a “local” player (The Netherlands is smaller than most states in square miles). Ajax have 10 Dutch players on their roster. Of course there are more variables involved with Ajax’s roster, i.e. more money, higher level of competition, more global scouting network, etc. After seeing that statistic though, part of me wants to say “RBNY has the most local talent on their team relative to any club in the world!” but that’s definitely not true. Think of small teams that plays in Central America or the Carribean. They are likely only working with local talent.
Either way, it’s really cool that RBNY are able to play at such a high level in MLS and make their fans proud by playing local talent.