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MLS Minutes Matrix Week 2: Red Bulls add youth

Is the MLS a league that caters to young players or domestic players? ASN's MLS Minutes Matrix is here to provide answers in the form of hard data. Week 2 is in the books and here are the results.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 11, 2018
2:45 PM
THE SECOND WEEK OF the MLS season is now in the books and with that is another round of the ASN Minutes Matrix to track how minutes are being allocated throughout the league and its various teams in 2018.

As we mentioned last week, we are still working out the kinks here and there with this project but so far we think it has been, and will continue to be, an effective glimpse at the league in terms of how it stands with playing young players and playing domestic players.

With all of the charts below, you are able to scroll around to view data. 


- The league overall had similar breakdowns to the first week. Overall minutes to domestic players (U.S. and Canadian national team-eligible) was up over 3% from the first week to 41.3%.

- In terms of youth, the numbers this week were mixed compared with the opening week. The number of minutes and appearances for U-23 players (22 and younger) went down slightly but the number of domestic U-22 (21 and under) minutes actually went up.

- A reason for this drop is due to the teams that had byes this past week. Philadelphia had a great opening weekend playing its youth but was off. Also FC Dallas being off also hurt the numbers slightly. It will be interesting to see a week when the Red Bulls, Philadelphia, and other youth-oriented teams all play.

- The overall weighted average age of the league in week two was 26.93 and 25.41 without considering goalkeepers. The average age of foreign players and domestic players is nearly identical too at 26.74 and 26.57 respectively.



- Due to what happened in Atlanta over the weekend, we decided to make a change to this chart. One of the league’s more promising teenagers is Andrew Carleton and many fans of the league have been urging Atlanta coach Tata Martino to play Carleton. On Sunday, Martino played Carleton for just one minute – in a game where Atlanta was up 3-1. To list Carleton has having played this week is, while technically correct, kind of misleading. So we inserted a column for minutes played.

- 11 different domestic teenagers have played in the season’s first two weeks. That is a very good number for the league but for it to mean anything, it has to be consistent.

- For the second straight week, a teenager “unexpectedly” stole the show. Anthony Fontana did in the first week with a big goal. Then in the second week it was the Red Bulls’ Ben Mines who scored in his MLS debut. In the midweek, Kenyan teenager Hanwalla Bwana (who might become U.S. eligible in the future), also stood out – surprising the Seattle coaching staff. Will this lead to more coaches taking risks?



- Right now, there is simply no better pathway from the youth levels to the professional ranks in American soccer than with the system the Red Bull’s have right now. There isn’t anyone better at playing young and getting them to succeed on the field than Jesse Marsch. Everyone knows Tyler Adams, but Saturday showed even more potential within its ranks as Marsch rested several key players ahead of Tuesday's huge CONCACAF Champions League game against Tijuana. Ben Mines, Derrick Etienne Jr., Kyle Duncan all look like they are ready to play at this level and are comfortable within Marsch’s system at a young age. Players that rise up through the Red Bulls II team look comfortable whenever they get the call-up to the first team.

- New England used nearly 70% of its minutes on domestic players – which is a huge number. It was also a balanced team in terms of age. While there was only one U-23 player to see the field (Brandon Bye, 22) in week 2, Brad Friedel’s team was also the only team in action this weekend that had under 10% of its minutes go to players over 30 (7.37%).

- Two games into the season and the LA Galaxy have yet to play anyone (either foreign or domestic) at the U-23 level. The Galaxy aren’t necessarily an old team aside form Ashely Cole, but they are not doing much by way of tapping into the talent-rich Southern California youth scene in the same way the Red Bulls have done in the Tri-State area. It seems like such a wasted opportunity.

- It is remarkable how old and foreign Houston’s team is right now with nearly 45% of its minutes going to players over 30 and an average weighted age of nearly 29. It is also giving nearly 70% of its minutes to foreign players? Does the club have any plans on getting younger this season? Will the team be able to go through an entire season with an old lineup?


We are always seeking your feedback and thoughts regarding the matrix.

One very good comment/criticism we received last week is on how we measure foreign and domestic. The comment pointed how a player like New York Red Bulls attacker Derrick Etienne Jr., 21, is considered foreign despite being born, raised, and developed in New Jersey. He is clearly an American citizen and a product of the American development system and there are a few others in his situation. 

People asked how he is foreign in the eyes of the league simply because he made the decision to play for Haiti? That choice seems independent of the league. Is it fair to say the Red Bulls are playing a foreign player over an American player when they are playing a kid from their own back yard which they developed in their academy? His decision to play for Haiti is really not part of the Red Bulls’ or the league's business.

This is a fair point and it is one we struggled with. To be honest, we may go back and switch it. The basic rational for our initial decision is twofold.

First, we don’t want to make judgement calls trying to figure out what category a player falls into. We would rather draw a hard line. Do we just put any player born in the United States into the domestic plie? Etienne clearly meets anyone’s definition of domestic. But how about Salt Lake’s Adam Henley who was born in the U.S., but was developed entirely abroad and plays for Wales? Do we also have to sort through all the various naturalized Americans who are playing for other nations and determine if they are domestic or foreign? We'd rather not. 

Second, we also intended this tool to give a glimpse at how the league can be a home for those within the player pools of the United States or Canadian national teams. Is it hard for young, aspiring U.S. internationals to find a place in this league? Could the league be doing more to expand the U.S. and Canadian player pools. Still, it's harsh to punish the league with an unfavorable stat due to the choice of an American player. It's a tough call. 

On a second order of feedback, the Matrix will be incorporating homegrown player data into the mix by the end of the March.

But if anyone has any more criticisms, comments, suggestions, or overall feedback, we are all ears.

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