Ferrari drives off, MLS asleep at the wheel
January 22, 2007

Major League Soccer is asleep. Sure, it sometimes wakes up for a day, tosses out $250 million figures, but then crawls back into its warm bed, pulls up the covers, yawns, and falls into a prolonged haze.

Time to wake up, Major League Soccer.

Last weekend, an otherwise unimportant game took place in Serie A, with Empoli beating Sampdoria 2:0. We say "otherwise", because on the bench of Sampdoria was 18-year-old Gabriel Ferrari. New Jersey's Gabriel Ferrari. RBNY youth team's Gabriel Ferrari. Well, formerly RBNY youth team's.

We first saw it a year ago with Johnny Exantus: a talented player came up through the Metro youth system, only to be denied first-team place by archaic MLS rules. Ferrari faced the same stipulations when Metro thought of giving him a first-team tryout last year: the only way he could have played for his home-town club is to enter the draft and risk any other MLS team taking him. Moreover, any professional tryout would wipe out his college eligibility.

So Ferrari looked elsewhere, decided that if college is not for him, then the risk should be taken with a bigger club, signed in Italy, and looks to be on course to become the first American since Alexi Lalas to lace up his boots on a Serie A field. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, we keep thinking, what kind of talent is brought up in our youth system that warrants Serie A contracts, and why on Earth doesn't MLS do everything in its power to keep kids like Ferrari home.

And MLS keeps sleeping.

Well, there is a youth development program in place now, and by 2008 Exantus could join the first team. Of course, by then, he (and whoever else is in the pipeline) might follow Ferrari to the greener pastures of Europe.

What separates Metro from other MLS teams is that Metro has had a youth program in place for a number of years. And while the late-comers will be forced to get on board this year, it seems that Metro is penalized for being ahead of the curve, for investing in the future in the area other teams completely disregarded. And even though at this point we don't know whether Ferrari and Exantus will be world-beaters or will soon be forgotten, it is pretty sad that we will not be able to find that out at the club that brought them up, at the club they should have been a part of.

Wake up, Major League Soccer.

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