It started out with the strangest of subheadings in the Sounder at Heart ‘Three Questions’ article leading into the game Wednesday night.
Play Your Kids meets We Used to Win with Kids
What could this possibly mean? Who is ‘Play Your Kids’ and ‘We Used to Win with Kids’? It was all very confusing. I dove in a little further to attempt to figure out what the author was trying to say.
Once upon a time there was a “Play Your Kids” movement. FC Dallas was the main benefactor of the meme-ification of soccer organizational strategy.
Aside from the fact that I think the word the author was looking for here was ‘beneficiary’, I was curious to see when ‘Play Your Kids’ became a thing in MLS. I used the unimpeachable approach of searching for the earliest mention of #playyourkids on Twitter.
There are a few mentions of it here and there, but it really starts to gain momentum in June of 2015. That year, FC Dallas had academy players play 6735 minutes for their team and lost out on the Supporters Shield on goal difference. This would be the first of back-to-back 60 point seasons- the only team in MLS history to accomplish that feat. They also knocked the Seattle Sounders out of the playoffs that year.
They did in fact play their kids and a few dozen writers and podcasters got very excited. The fans got about $12 off their season tickets when those kids were sold to much better teams — teams that try to win.
So, $12? LMFAO- I wish. More importantly, all of that money came from foreign players who Fernando Clavijo signed and had nothing to do with ‘the kids’ in this context. None of the checks came from academy players. The Castillo and Diaz sales (and maybe Gruezo?) earned STMs one-off checks (rather than discounts), and they didn’t necessarily end up at good teams let alone much better. If you want to include these guys in the ‘play your kids’ discussion, by all means, but that’s another discussion.
Clavijo definitely was a visionary, and this initiative should really be called ‘The Clavijo Rule’. Even legitimate pros like Garth Lagerway are looking into this as a path forward. Anyway, let’s see what else this mad genius has to say about youth development and winning.
And then the Seattle Sounders played their kids and the meme was tired and the Seattle Sounders didn’t really get that attention from the few dozen podcasters and bloggers...
After Wednesday night and entrusting zero minutes to their vaunted academy players because they couldn’t afford to walk away from a three-game homestand with zero points, Seattle had given a total of 1514 minutes to Homegrown players. That’s slightly more than one-third of the 4398 minutes FC Dallas has given to their former academy players this year, and a number that would probably be significantly higher without a number of loans, injuries, and player sales. I am sympathetic for you not getting the richly deserved attention of noted podcaster, Serie A, or blogger, The Bundesliga, but stick with it. You’ll get there eventually!
...because the Sounders were winning, and that’s not really the point of the meme.
Oh, poor Dave. Is ‘winning’ the same as going winless on a three-game homestand? I know it’s very exciting to win a game with a wonder goal against an expansion team, but things seem to have tapered off since then. The really wild thing is that all three teams Seattle couldn’t beat at home (SKC, San Jose, FC Dallas) have all given more than 1000 more minutes to their academy products than Seattle has. Now that you’re an (admittedly aspiring) meme team, here’s how the OG’s win one with five homegrowns on the field.
True, Columbus wasn’t an expansion team, but they were terrible in 2015. Wait, what’s that? I’m hearing Columbus finished 2nd in the East that year and played in the MLS Cup final. Huh.
Circling back to the lack of fartsniffing from pundits, bloggers, reporters, Euro leagues eager to buy promising talent, etc; let’s look at those #playyourkids numbers. After Wednesday night, I previously mentioned that Seattle had doled out 1514 minutes to their (admittedly good- great playing your kids!) academy players. That number isn’t even Top 3 in the league. Also, it isn’t Top 5. Top 10??? Nope.
In fact, Seattle Sounder is #11 in Homegrown minutes played this year which, if you exclude the five teams added in the last four years (ie the top two classes of a development academy), Seattle is right in the middle in MLS in terms of clubs playing players from their youth academy. If I were a primo youth talent given this information and looking to make it big with an MLS club, I’ll steer clear of all the ‘meme’ teams, thank you. Get me to Seattle, stat!
Coming into this season from 2015, Seattle has exactly one more point than FC Dallas in regular-season matches. That’s right...one. Seattle in that time has won exactly two trophies. That’s also the same number as Dallas.
It’s also the same number as New York Red Bulls (2018 was definitely a #playyourkids team). It’s the same as Spork (#playyourkids), and it’s the same for Toronto (#playyourkids). It’s also the same as Atlanta (not play your kids, but more so than Seattle this year!). So yeah, there’s a perfect comparison for Seattle in the ‘Play your Kids’ era. It’s definitely Atlanta.
Seattle fans did not get a discount on their tickets. They just got to watch an MLS Cup at home with 70,000 fans.
Obnoxious touting of the number of customers....yeah, definitely Atlanta. You were very close that year though!
With 69,274 people on hand for the 2019 MLS Cup, the Seattle Sounders have set a new franchise record for attendance. The number only trails last year’s final for most all-time in MLS Cup. Last year’s MLS Cup, between Atlanta United and the Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, featured 73,019 in attendance.
Anywho, good luck with your win-less streak, and remember:
It bears mentioning that ‘the kids’ were nowhere to be found on the game-tying goal from the much-maligned Franco Jara (unless you want to include Seattle’s own Nkosi Tafari under a broader definition of ‘kids’). Jara came up big, and I doff my cap to the cagey veteran coming up with a big play to win the ball in the box and then finish a great cross from Tafari. I’m in on Jara functioning as a super-sub this year with a clear caveat:
FCD when Jara starts (8 matches): 0 wins, 5 losses, 3 draws. Jara has 0 open play goals or assists (1pk). FCD 4 goals scored. .375ppg
FCD when Jara does not stat (9 matches): 4 wins, 2 losses, 3 draws. Jara has 2 goals and 1 assist as a sub. FCD 17 goals scored. 1.666 ppg
Jara averages a goal or an assist every 67 minutes when he subs in rather than starting. That’s excellent, and I really hope that’s how the club’s management keeps it. A surge in the second half isn’t out of the question if Jara can continue providing timely contributions off the bench. Here’s to an excellent 2nd half.