Homegrown Products Lead Talented Crop of MLS Rookies

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 02: Portland Timbers defender Marco Farfan attemps to dribble New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell during the 1-1 tie between the New England Revolution and the Portland Timbers on April 02, 2017, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Last season’s MLS Rookie of the Year voting was easy. Jordan Morris had a stranglehold on the award from the moment the Seattle Sounders signed him to the most expensive homegrown contract in league history. This season will not be nearly as easy. Every team seemingly has academies churning out players at an unprecedented rate. These academies are providing us with one of the most talented class of MLS rookies we have ever seen.

Homegrown Products Lead Talented Crop of MLS Rookies

The influx of homegrown talent is part of the wider trend of MLS teams becoming more knowledgeable about how to construct their squads. These cost effective players are having more of an impact than ever, in part because their parent clubs have molded them from their teenage years into exactly what they need. Here are four players that have specifically stood out in their first seasons on homegrown deals.

Nick Lima- RB- San Jose Earthquakes

Full back is a difficult position to gain fame in, but Nick Lima is well on his way. He has shown an uncanny ability to pick off passes in the final third of the pitch defensively. He is good for at least a couple key interventions per game. He’s also an adept crosser going forward. He has the speed to take on opposing defenders and the passing accuracy to throw a threatening ball into the penalty area.

Alex Crognale- CB- Columbus Crew

Alex Crognale has been a stabilizing force in a Columbus defense that had its fair share of problems last season. Jonathan Mensah was supposed to be the big addition to the back line, but Crognale has been the more consistent force. His performance in his first ever start at D.C. United was his official coming out party. He was a rock in the center of a back three that conceded 13 mostly wayward shots. Two of those shots were blocked by Crognale, who also added 11 clearances and a pair of interceptions.

Marco Farfan- LB- Portland Timbers

Left back was a position of concern last year for Portland and now, thanks in large part to Marco Farfan’s exploits, it is probably their deepest position. This 18-year-old high school senior is the first homegrown product to play for Portland and he isn’t disappointing. He’s turned himself into a two-way full back who tackles strong at the back and maintains possession in the attack. It’s a shame that he’s still a backupĀ and will head back to the bench after Vytas Andruskevicius returns from injury.

Ian Harkes- CM- D.C. United

The son of American soccer legend John Harkes is still finding his way in MLS. He has started five straight games for a struggling D.C. United and has shown he belongs in a top level central midfield. He completes around three quarters of his passes and does well to set up his teammates for chances. He still has some growing to do, but one day he should be one of the premier midfielders in MLS.

Other non-homegrown rookies have made some noise as well. Brooks Lennon has been loanedĀ from the Liverpool youth system to Real Salt Lake to a lot of acclaim. He doesn’t technically count as a homegrown player, but he did come from an RSL run school in Arizona. Julian Gressel is a German standout at defensive midfield in an Atlanta United side loaded with South Americans. He was drafted eighth overall in last winter’s MLS SuperDraft. These players are great, but it’s the homegrown players attracting the real attention as MLS matures into a real player development factory.