Identifying young talent remains one of the vexing pursuits in soccer. There is no tried and true formula, no magic wand to construct an academy program teeming with talent. Some consistent principles run through the top academies in the world, but they diverge enough to leave room for interpretation.
Those variations — and the divergent objectives from club to club — make taking stock of the success or failure of an academy setup particularly difficult. It is easy to marvel at La Masia, point out how Anderlecht fueled Belgium’s rise or wonder how Sporting CP produces star after star in Portugal. It is far more difficult to tumble down the ladder and sift through the ranks.
It is even more difficult to assess in MLS. Most of the academies are new by world soccer standards. They rely on comparatively modest resources. They exist in a complex web of regulations that limit the ability to reap benefits or secure long-term futures without a first-team contract.