A View from Afar / Commentary

Questions on the home(grown) front

Photo: Paul Rudderow

A few quick thoughts on Philadelphia Union and Bethlehem Steel FC. Ready? Go.

Changes on the homegrown player front

For all the efforts and talk from Philadelphia Union about the need to build a youth development infrastructure, the club’s legacy on this front remains decidedly mixed.

The club’s signing of Derrick Jones to Bethlehem Steel FC looks like a good sign. You could say the Junior Lone Star product fell into their lap, but that would be too cynical. Good talent evaluators identify quality players first and foremost. You can’t teach pure talent. You teach skills, and you hone talent once you find it. On paper, Jones seems like the model for future homegrown signings: Identify talent, bring them into the academy, sign them to the USL club, and then give them minutes there to show what they can do. We’ll find out in 2016 what Jones can do as a rookie professional.

On the flip side, however, Jimmy McLaughlin was among the players whose contract options were declined by the Union last week. The 22-year-old midfielder scored six goals in 23 games at Harrisburg in 2014, but for one reason or another, he only played in nine games for the former Union affiliate this year. McLaughlin could still theoretically sign a contract with Bethlehem Steel FC, and maybe that is the plan behind the move. So far, there has been no public sign of that.

If McLaughlin is gone permanently, it’s another concession of the Union’s largely failed efforts on the homegrown front. Simply put, they haven’t signed, developed and retained much young local talent. Zach Pfeffer was the first to sign with the club and remains the only one to crack the team’s regular rotation. Fellow local products Antoine Hoppenot and Andrew Wenger joined the club through other means, and in any case, they are also departing this offseason.

The creation of Bethlehem Steel FC marked a recognition that the club’s youth development model wasn’t working, with club officials specifically identifying it as the missing piece in their model. We’ll see what the club can do for Jones and, possibly, McLaughlin.

Union fail to sign Keegan Rosenberry and (possibly) Darius Madison as homegrowns

Georgetown star Keegan Rosenberry won’t be signing with the Union before the draft. The league turned down the club’s homegrown claim.

Separately, Darius Madison looks set to enter the MLS amateur draft rather than sign with the Union as a homegrown player.

Not good signs.

The rejection on the Rosenberry front is something the team has to take up with the league. That’s a rules issue.

But if Madison doesn’t sign with the Union, that’s another issue altogether. That’s a player telling the Union, “I’d rather take my chances with a bunch of clubs I don’t know than go with you guys.” And it probably says the youth player doesn’t think much of the Union or their offer. Rosenberry has been connected on and off with the Union for years, but Madison was more closely tied with the club’s academy and reserve teams. The Union have had their eyes on Madison for years as a pro prospect, but he reportedly said in September that he planned to enter the draft. Sure enough, he is among the players set to attend the draft combine in Florida next month.

Madison looked set to break out his senior year before getting kicked off the University of Virginia’s squad. He later transferred to University of Maryland Baltimore County, where he scored six goals. The breakout never quite happened. How much that hurt his stock with the Union is unknown. Maybe they don’t like him that much on the field, and maybe they don’t like him that much off the field either. At the very least, he demonstrated enough quality to be, on paper, worth signing and giving minutes to with the Bethlehem Steel squad.

The Union still have time to sign him. There’s always the possibility that Madison is holding out for a good contract offer from the Union and using the draft option as a means of leverage.

A shorthand name for Bethlehem Steel FC?

Bethlehem Steel FC is a mouthful. Enough of a mouthful that many city natives, particularly on the South Side, will swallow the middle syllable and call the city “Beth-lem.” (North Siders would correct you for saying it that way.)

Sooner or later, the team will need a shorthand name.

Soccer historians generally referred to the original club as BSFC. Historically, the team was often referred to in the press as “the Steelworkers.”

Neither quite fits to me. Back in the 1920s, BSFC’s players actually were steelworkers. Bethlehem’s steel mills shut over 15 years ago. Meanwhile, BSFC is fine enough, but it’s pretty ordinary.

Here are some alternatives that come to mind:

  • The Steel: Back when I was living in Bethlehem, this was often how people referred to the company and the plant. “The Steel.” Because there can be only one.
  • Nothing else that’s remotely cool.

Now that we’ve explored the alternatives so comprehensively, it seems so very clear there’s only one alternative, eh?

Better ideas, voice yourselves in the Comments section below.


  1. seriously, Dan? BSFC and it’s full name is a stickler?

    a sour end to an otherwise decent article.

    • No, not really seriously. 😉

      But if I put smileys in the post, Ed would not only edit them out, but he would hit me with a set of drumsticks that he keeps for times like this. I went looking for a good Highlander link to embed in the “There can only be one” line, but I ran out of time before I could find one. When you rush a column, sometimes the end product … you know … kinda sucks? (I’m confident, however, that a link to a scene with Ramirez would have fixed everything.)

  2. James Lockerbie says:

    everyone one is allowed a foul ball once in a while, oh wait wrong sport. how about we wait and see how they play although the stadium nickname could be the steel cage

  3. B-steel would be my vote.

    Regarding Madison, I’ve only seen him play a few times, but I really can’t tell how good he is. For a forward, he certainly doesn’t score a lot (roughly 18 goals in 72 matches). Even this year, he scored six in 13 matches, but two of those were PK’s.

    I’m happy to hear more about him from people who have watched him more and are much more familiar with him.

  4. Is it possible Madison is trying for a Generation Adidas contract? I’m pretty sure they tend to pay more than homegrown contracts.

    • i don’t think seniors can get generation adidas contracts

    • Do the Union get any compensation for Madison turning them down? I thought if you developed the player, you had his MLS rights? Otherwise, what’s the incentive to have an academy if another club can come in and reap the benefits of your academy at no charge?

  5. Mike Macheski says:

    BFC is a quicker and easier way to shorten it IMHO. We’ll all know the “steel” is implied.

  6. While I appreciate the ideas here… my contention is winning cures all ills.
    The team is putting together an academy structure where kids now have a place to play…that actually means something.
    My hopes, based on the new Director’s introduction are that he full well expects the youth to rise…and it better…otherwise this whole thing will be a failure. If your not signing Giovincos and Dos Santos you have to have a youth club filling your roster. Your youth give you leverage.
    (( ES expects this and it best happen — doesn’t mean I expect it right now though….once the USL club settles and the SD settles and things start to roll… I am also however not discounting the fact that the academy coaches better be able to produce the type of player Earnie Stewart wants for Jim Curtin and Brendan Burke. I still have my doubts. I am VERY curious how married to the current infrastructure Mr. Graham is. You got a dutch american sporting director and a decidedly UK worldview of a youth program.))
    This team has been in shambles since the beginning…if I was 18-20 year old why would I want to play here. The team is terrible.
    From our aged fan and ‘goo goo eyed love the club’ perspective and seats along the touch line maybe we can believe in change on the field and with the club and be hopeful that things are going to be fixed… but as a young kid…. this team sucks and it has always sucked… and I’d rather roll the dice I wind up in Seattle or Portland or Orlando or or or or or or or 20 some odd other teams.
    To me this isn’t some fault other than the objecti-fiable, incon-trovertible proof of win.
    This club needs to win.
    Winning cures everything.

    • Can’t disagree with that logic. Young people like teams that win – it isn’t until later in life we become stubbornly loyal to the unsatisfactory.

    • I agree with you, time for Stewart to clean house that old school kick and run win the ball at all cost is history, with tv internet the kids are better educated to the game. WE need some class futball

    • Agree that winning cures many things. I also wonder how much has to do with means. And this is hard to really know when so much of MLS’s financial arrangements are not public.
      What I’m curious about is how an academy player in the Union system sees his future. Aside from winning, he’s going to want to be sure he does as well as he can for himself financially. Base salaries for Hoppenot and McLaughlin were $60,000 last year. That’s a pretty good starting salary for an 18-22-year-old, but a lot of top soccer players come from families in which a lot more salary is the norm. That’s the odd thing about American Soccer. It’s generally a sport for wealthier, suburban kids.
      Maybe I’m way off base, but that dynamic must be at play for these kids — hell, even if your family isn’t well off, you want to make sure you can earn a good paycheck and you’d want to keep your options open.

      • That kids from wealthier families are more likely to play soccer certainly isn’t a rule, but I tend to agree. When I was a kid playing travel soccer, out of the 60 or so kids across the three (A, B, C) teams for our township there wasn’t a single kid who came from a family below the upper middle class. And of the people I still keep in touch with most of them are making more money straight out of college than Hoppenot or McLaughlin did last season.

  7. Is a homegrown player allowed to refuse his home club’s offer to sign him and instead enter the MLS draft? That wouldn’t make any sense from a financial perspective. Why would a club such as the Union go through all the expense of training a kid if there is no guarantee that the player will even sign with them? I don’t know what the rule is, but it should be that if a player is on a MLS team’s homegrown list AND said player is offered a homegrown contract then that club will retain his MLS rights. If a player refuses to sign with his homegrown team then tough luck go play somewhere else besides MLS or have his rights traded to a different team. If the club doesn’t offer a homegrown contract then (and only then) can said player enter the MLS draft.

  8. It would at least soften any blows for the Union to get in front of the Homegrown claims instead of leaving Dan Walsh to wonder out loud about how it reflects on the club. Say you’re pursuing Madison or not. Say you respectfully disagree with the Rosenberry claim. Or say so sad, too bad. But say something, specifically how you are targeting talented youth to contribute from Academy through BSFC to the first team – notwithstanding these developments.

  9. My guess with Madison is that whatever got him booted off UVA is why the Union didn’t sign him to an HG contract. That story will inevitably come to light the higher up the U.S. soccer infrastructure he goes, and if the Union sign him knowing what that issue was, it makes them look pretty bad. Great athletes don’t get kicked off college sports teams these days unless it’s something pretty bad or repeated occurrences of something not quite as bad… Either way it can be toxic.

    • As I read it, the Union didn’t say it declined to pursue Madison as a Homegrown but that it looks like Madison does not want to be so signed. The club need not disparage him, simply say “We have declined to pursue a Homegrown claim and wish the talented Mr. Madison great success.” The impression left is that lightning struck twice and this club is avoided by both Rosenberry (little doubt) and now Madison, i.e., those talented youths with a choice in a matter of days. Could there be any worse advertisement for your future?

  10. Could be the taste left over from the previous regime. We may have to cut ties and learn and move forward.

  11. The Union didn’t have a Academy when Madison and Rosenberry played High School Darius played for FC Delco Academy, Keegan played for Penn Fusion thats why there not homegrown players its that simple the Academy started 3 years ago, they played in scrimmages that were not official academy games

  12. Here’s a couple of choices for a shorter name… how about ‘Iron Men’ or ‘The Blast’ as in furnace…

  13. The Realist Brian says:

    Please read Charles Boehm’s article on Soccer Wire. The Union got hosed by another team in Rosenberry’s HGP claim. Such fucking nonsense when the kid played with Union reserves, Reading and for the SUM team that won iirc ect.
    Harrison Shipp was signed because he played for Chicago Fire PDL. He wasn’t in their academy during high school for a full year.
    Jay Chapman is another with very tenuous claims from Toronto.
    Zardes is another that’s didn’t play for a full year.
    I could go on. The Union have to do a better job “selling” this to the league office, especially seeing how we didn’t have the infrastructure in place. The Union should have argued about any pre-existing academy therefor didn’t exist like Orlando, Seattle, Portland ect. If they are going to have such rigid homegrown rules. Why do you think that Sacremento and Atlanta are already forming Academies. The real bullshit is Georgia United is just rebranding to Atlanta United. They have about 8 legit prospects right now in the U-18 and U-16 teams (4 kids went to residency). They don’t truly exist, yet they are smart enough to absorb the largest club down there. Likewise, NYCFC followed our model (clubs with training) for one year, and those U-18s that went to college should be held to the same standard as the Union with Keegan.
    Final point, Pfeffer, Hernadez and Jimmy were all signed through the club/country model the Union employed, so how is it that their cohorts Rosenberry and the others not be signed? Maybe this this the reason the Union haven’t been able to sign any HGs for the last couple of years. Hmmm.

  14. I was already calling the team the Steel. Twenty years of working in the A-B-E area, “the Steel” was the one and only. Everybody STILL knows what it means, and that nickname brings back Archie Stark. Stick with that name: hard, simple and established.

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