Since 2008, Major League Soccer has allowed each team to sign local players from their academy programs directly to their senior team. The Revolution has been one of the league's most successful teams in adding homegrown players, signing forward Diego Fagundez (Leominster, MA) in 2010 and midfielder Scott Caldwell (Weymouth, MA) last December.
According to league rules, up to two homegrown players do not count against a team's salary cap. Players need to have spent at least one year with their local team's academy program, lived in their club's territory, and met more unspecified league requirements to be eligible for a homegrown contract.
It's been a popular way to keep young, local players with the teams they grew up with, especially since some of the 70 players that have signed homegrown contracts have become regular fixtures with their teams or moved beyond American professional soccer.
Here are the top five homegrown players in league history:
5. Ashtone Morgan, Toronto FC
Ashtone Morgan joined Toronto FC's academy in 2008 at age 16. Now 22, Morgan has been a member of Toronto's senior team since 2011, emerging as a regular starter at left back. Morgan, who was the TFC Academy's first-ever graduate, has also begun earning looks from the Canadian national team. In 2011, he was Canada's U-20 Player of the Year. He earned his first international appearance in September of 2011 for a World Cup qualifier against Puerto Rico. Toronto decided to sign the speedy defender to a multi-year deal just a few months into his professional career. That's a testament to Morgan's skill, seeing as Toronto have struggled since they joined the league in 2007 and have seen a slew of defenders come and go. But Morgan appears to have found a home in Toronto, being one of the only defensive players to be offered a contract extension.
4. Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution
Born in Uruguay's capital of Montevideo, Diego Fagundez moved with his family to Leominster, Mass., when he was 5 years old. He joined the Revolution Academy at age 14 and subsequently signed a professional contract with the Revolution in 2011 at 15. It took Fagundez a few months before former coach Steve Nicol rewarded him with playing time. But on Aug. 6, 2011, Fagundez earned his first appearance off the bench with his team trailing Chivas USA by two goals. Fagundez drew a penalty kick within moments of taking the field, which cut Chivas' lead in half. A few minutes later, he scored his first professional goal by collecting a forty-yard pass, rounding the goalkeeper, and slotting the ball into the back of the net.
Skill-wise, Fagundez can go toe-to-toe with almost anyone on the Revolution roster. Talent-wise, the sky is the limit. The Revolution signed Fagundez to a multi-year deal earlier this month, though the youngster is still competing hard for playing time. But the beauty of Fagundez's play is that he makes something happen almost every time he's on the field. He's got the foot skills, positioning, and scoring ability to make a formidable soccer career. Unfortunately for the US national team, Fagundez appears to have chosen to represent his native Uruguay at the international level.
3. Juan Agudelo, Chivas USA
Juan Agudelo, 20, actually signed as a homegrown player for the New York Red Bulls. Interestingly enough, the Colombian-born Agudelo earned his name in top-down fashion rather than bottom-up. He earned a call to former US national team head coach Bob Bradley's camp for a friendly against South Africa while he was struggling for playing time in New York. Agudelo came on as a substitute against South Africa for his first international appearance and proceeded to score the game-winning goal. He scored his second international goal less than a year later in a 1-1 tie with Argentina in front of his homecrowd at New York's MetLife Stadium.
Agudelo was traded to Chivas USA last year in a multi-player swap. Though he's not a power scorer, he is still one of the US' best young attacking players. He appears to have his heart set on continuing to represent the US national team. Agudelo has followed the advice of US coach Jurgen Klinsmann to train during the MLS offseason. During his downtime with MLS, he has trained with the likes of Stuttgart, Liverpool, Celtic, and West Ham United.
2. Bill Hamid, DC United
Generally, young goalkeepers wait years before they break into the starting role with their respective clubs. Not only has Bill Hamid become the regular starter between the pipes for DC United, but he has also started earning serious looks with the US national team. He signed for United in 2009 after playing for the club's youth team and made his first professional appearance on May 5, 2010.
Hamid, 22, is arguably the league's best young goalkeeper. Not only can he stop shots, but he confidently commands his penalty area and knows how to organize his back line. He has a career 1.20 goals against average and a save percentage of 73 -- better than most goalkeepers in MLS' all-time player register.
Hamid has just one appearance with the US national team, though he has participated in most of Jurgen Klinsmann's training camps. Hamid could be the player who steps in for the US in goal in the future.
Andy Najar, 20, is probably the beacon for Ashtone Morgan, Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, Bill Hamid, and the 65 other homegrown player contract holders. Young players want to play professionally, earn notoriety, represent their country, and make it big. Najar has done all of the above.
He's no Lionel Messi and he's made some questionable decisions on the field (see referee disrespect here) but Najar's career is very much on the rise. He left DC for Belgium's Anderlecht on a permanent, $3 million deal in January. The 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year has also represented Honduras at the Olympic Games and is beginning to get attention from the senior team.
At 5-7, Najar was never a physically imposing player in MLS. He is known more for his quick passing and darting runs down the flank. Najar took to MLS quickly, becoming a regular starter not long after he made his professional debut in March of 2010. From then on, Najar's confidence only went up as he established himself as a player who could change a game and make a difference. He finished his DC career with 10 goals and 11 assists.
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