In the final part of our interview with MLS technical director of youth development Fred Lipka, he talks about the rise of Alphonso Davies and Miguel Almiron and the next level of the league’s evolution.
Fred Lipka hopes Alphonso Davies and not Christian Pulisic will be the example young North American footballers follow.
He is not making a judgement about their football abilities or characters – just their pathways. Neither is Lipka critical of the decision Pulisic made to leave the US aged 16 to continue his football education in Europe with Borussia Dortmund – he believes Pulisic had no optimal options at that time.
But the MLS Technical Director of Youth Development says times have changed and Davies’ move to Bayern Munich after breaking into the Vancouver first-team shows that. Lipka said: “We have to be very clear. Pulisic left and also maybe we weren’t ready to give him what he needed and with Alphonso it was completely different.
“He had a full pathway in Vancouver. Very good coaches, a very good environment and the opportunity to play in the first-team.
“Now for most of our players, we are now clear and a first option to become professional and then to play abroad if it is their ultimate dream.
“I am not sure going directly to Europe is the best way to fulfil their dream to become pro.
“It was not the case five or six years ago. Now we are getting serious in this business.”
Lipka believes the emergence of a homegrown player like Davies and an import like Miguel Almiron, who Newcastle signed from Atlanta for £20million, signifies an exciting evolution in the for the MLS.
But he is keen to point out that this is no organic revolution. It is all part of plan that has allowed the fledgling league to take root, grow and now show the first signs of blossoming.
In the beginning there was Colombian legend Carlos Valderamma who was 35 when the MLS kicked-off in 1996 and was the international star the league needed to attract interest.
The landscape changed when David Beckham joined LA Galaxy in 2007 and gave birth to the Designated Player era. Since then recruitment has been aided by Targeted Allocation Money to help sign or retain impact and core players and the HGP to give a pathway to Homegrown players.
Lipka added: “Everything that happens in the MLS is part of a process and nothing happens by chance. Indeed DP, TAM and HGP are the result of the plan.
“The strategy was to make a sustainable league with very high-level players and at the beginning this meant some very experienced and famous players came to make it sustainable. “This league is only 22 years old. The business was not secure, it wasn’t sure it would survive. “The first step was to have Valderamma and the former players come back after playing in Europe.
“Beckham was a kind of game changer and now we have different stream to feed the league.” That different stream is what Lipka sees as version 3.0, which has seen younger players come into the league – both imported and homegrown. He believes increasing the number and quality of homegrown players is crucial to improve the league in a sustainable way and making the MLS a more appealing proposition to North American sports fans, while Almiron’s move to Newcastle makes it a strong proposition for young, ambitious players.
This has been shown by Atlanta attracting Argentina’s player of the year Gonzalo Martinez, 25, from Copa Libertadores champions River Plate as Almiron’s replacement. Lipka added: “Now the age of the DP is decreasing. We’re fortunate because we still have Rooney and Ibrahimovic and those guys are outstanding and could be starters in every top teams in Europe, but now we also have DPs who are 22, 23, 24 and now you will see Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron in England.
“Almiron is an interesting story and it is good Atlanta now sign another young player in Martinez
“Now we have the coaches and the clubs who are able to attract the best kids in South America some 21/22 to have a first step in the MLS, then they have the option to stay or go.
“A very significant move now, is instead of importing players we need to develop better domestic players to give more core and give more hope and be
“To completely engage the community we have to develop better domestic players.
“That’s my main objective. The objective is to develop younger players to sign them, to give them an education in the clubs, to sign them at U16, U17 U19 and to play them. Also, maybe to create a capacity for our clubs to transfer players and also be in this business of developing players.
“Alphonso Davies is a good example, to be aspirational for all these great kids we have, to be able to say the MLS is a top objective but if you also have the potential and the opportunity to go to Europe you will go because we also have a lot of ambition.
“We know our sport and our league are growing, it’s an evolution and it’s ineluctable but we can understand now at MLS that sometimes the kids dream to play for the best club in the world and that is part of the story.
“As a father and as a coach I want to have kids who are very ambitious and dream about playing in the top leagues in the world.
“In ten years – in five years I hope – in ten years everyone would like to come in the US, that is the objective.”