I’m going to lead off with this, Caden Clark is not long for MLS. Whether that could have ever been with Minnesota United or with New York Red Bulls he is not long for the league. More than likely he will be lining up in the Bundesliga before he is of legal drinking age. The kid is THAT good. He has two appearances with NYRB and two goals in those two games. He could very well be one of the biggest stars ever and best player ever produced from the United States, but only time will till on that.
We do know that the higher ups at Red Bull are high on Clark and have been for a while. And Adrian Heath also wanted to get him, saying to the media this past week.
“We couldn’t have done a lot more to keep him here. I know a lot has been written about this situation. Some of it is so misinformed, it’s unbelievable. We tried to get Caden to sign here. I met with him and his father and the owners. We tried to get to the situation where he was going to play here. Even the Red Bulls, they needed to see him play in USL level before they could make a decision to offer him an MLS contract. We were not in that situation; we didn’t have a second team to go on. We spoke to the kid and his family about maybe signing with us and going to Madison, which was something they weren’t keen on — which I understand.”
The issue is, as stated earlier the Red Bull higher ups are high on Clark. And as reported it looks as if Clark will be fast tracked to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, skipping the usual step of joining Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga. And Heath’s final comments somewhat dispute the fact that Red Bulls needed to see him in USL first. In fact Clark signed a contract directly with USLC side Red Bulls II because MNUFC owned his MLS rights (which is an issue I’ll get too later). NYRB couldn’t call him up from RBII until they got his rights.
If NYRB held his rights the entire time or if there were no rights in the first place would we have seen him play with RBII? More than likely yes, but for a lot shorter of a time than the 12 games he spent with them.
Heath also said “we tried everything we could to get him to sign for us and unfortunately we couldn’t. So then we tried to get the best deal that we can. And then, when I look at what we got and what we will eventually get, I think it was a pretty good deal for somebody who’s never really played for us.”
Adrian Heath is right Minnesota United got $75K in General Allocation Money for someone who not only never played for them, but also someone who quite literally never spent anytime in MNUFC’s Academy. The Medina native spent time in the Minnesota Thunder Academy, which was founded back in 2008 by the old Minnesota Thunder. From there he moved on to the Barça Residency Academy in Arizona.
This is where we encounter issue number one, the lack of MNUFC buying the MTA. While buying the Academy was not an option before Dr. Bill McGuire bought the Minnesota Stars prior to the 2012 NASL season. Anytime past that it was an option to do, this would have been an especially good thing to do back in 2015 after the club was announced as an expansion side for MLS in either 2017 or 2018, which as you know ended up being 2017.
Purchasing or forming a partnership with the MTA would have given a pre-built top to bottom structure that had already produced a large amount of pro and college talent.
Rather than go that route Minnesota United chose to begin their own Academy with just U-13 and U-14 sides in the fall of 2017, after the team had completed their first season in Major League Soccer.
Not starting or partnering with an existing Academy is not the only issue I have from the NASL days. The others being the discontinuation of a reserve team, had they continued that and had an academy in one way or another we may have seen Clark in an MNUFC kit. The other issue I’ve always had is the lack of building towards MLS from the time they were granted an expansion side. Instead the Loons kept on towards the NASL format and finished 3rd in 2015 before being bounced out in the Semi-Finals of the NASL Playoffs. The following year in 2016 the Loons would finish all the way down in 5th and missing the playoffs completely in their final year in NASL. The club only retained five players from 2016 to 2017, only one of those five (Brent Kallman) is still with Minnesota.
Minnesota United ended up completely revamping their Academy structure, which Eli Hoff sat down with Manny Lagos to discuss a while ago. You can read about that and MNUFC’s new structure here. Shortly after Major League Soccer announced the creation of a new youth structure, MLS Next, one of a few to attempt to replace the DA system by the USSF.
At the end of the day this all actually comes down to the draconian territorial rights system MLS employs, that quite literally no other league in North America has. The easiest way to explain how Clark’s rights were given to Minnesota United is because he was from Minnesota. The rule is much much more complicated than that but that’s the easiest way to explain it in this situation. As of a 2018 report from The Athletic MNUFC’s Homegrown Territorial Rights are:
“The states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, excluding a 75-mile radius of the Fire’s training facility.”
This has to change and they need to just get rid of them. Our sister site The Mane Land did a great piece a few months ago on why this needs to change. Part of it was, incidentally, because of MNUFC’s refusal to release player rights from their at the time non-existent Academy so players could go to another MLS Academy.
The Caden Clark saga is not something that should have been unexpected, rather something imminent due to the player development system in the US and the odd rules MLS has.