The Johnny Exantus case
January 28, 2006
Johnny Exantus can be just a blip on soccer's radar screen. Or he can be the player that changes Major League Soccer. At this point, the number of possible paths is many for a 16-year-old whom even the biggest Metro fans would not spot in a lineup. Unless they are parents of one of the Metro youth players, that is.
Exantus is a Haitian-born striker that excelled for the Metros' Under-16 team, the one that won the Super Y-League in November, with Exantus scoring the game-winning goal. Now he seems to be one of only three survivors of the clouded-in-mystery training camp the MetroStars held last week, with the other two being Elie Ikangu, a French defensive midfielder and another player whose identity has not been revealed. That a 16-year-old came out of a group that included players with English Premier League experience speaks volumes.
Exantus seems confident as well. "At first I had to get adjusted to playing against bigger guys, but once I got started I didn't see that big of a difference between my skill level and the other players," he told MetroStars.com. "There's a difference (between the youth and adult teams), but I don't see much of (one). As far as adjusting, I feel I can dominate. I just need to improve my timing." "So far we haven't been disappointed in what he has shown," said head of Metro Youth Development Giovanni Savarese. "He has scored some goals in the training sessions and showed he can finish well. He has shown good vision in being able to connect with some players. The most important thing is that he has shown a lot of professionalism during training. He has been punctual every day and worked hard during training."
So why can't the Metros, who have five youth international slots, pounce on Exantus? Here lies the crux of the problem; Johnny's age prevents him from being a free agent, unlike the players he just competed against. Of course, MLS can sign him to a Generation Adidas contract, but since the draft has passed, he would be placed into a special lottery (much like Danny Szetela), where the Metros would stand a significant chance to lose him. Of course, the difference between Exantus' and Szetela's cases is that while the latter was a widely-known US youth international, the former is a complete unknown in this country, discovered by the Metros and groomed through their youth teams. So why should the Metros lose him? Furthermore, wouldn't allowing kids to stay close to home lessen the possibility that they would spur MLS altogether and sign abroad (which did not happen in the Szetela case, but is happening elsewhere)?
MLS has talked a lot recently about launching youth squads, which would grow into academies. And while Metro is years ahead of other teams in this regard, here is a chance for the league to take a step in the right direction and proclaim Exantus (and anyone who goes through their youth system) Metro property. If the league sees a future where teams groom their own players, where there is not just one Bradenton for the US national team, but a Bradenton-like academy for every MLS team, that can only help US soccer grow, right? Can you imagine the Galaxy and Chivas USA fighting over California products, or the MetroStars and a new Philadelphia team trying to divide up New Jersey?
And who knows if Exantus will prove to be a good pro, or if he'll never kick a ball in a MLS game. At this point, the possibilities are endless. Let's hope the powers that be launch him -- and the league youth system -- on the right path.