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Conspicuous Absences: No Revs in the January Camp

Bob Bradley revealed his 24-man squad for the US Men’s National Team January Camp today, and the usual criticisms and concerns are being thrown around. Some people forget (and some remember a little too well) that this is meant to be a camp for young, mostly domestic-based players to get their feet wet with the national team and learn the ins and outs of international training and competition.

Among the aspiring internationals are ex-Rev midfielder and MLS Cup champion (with Colorado) Jeff Larentowicz, as well as Boston College product Alejandro Bedoya. The seemingly-universal "notable exception" to the group is Bobby Convey, who may be missing out because despite his long exile from the squad, he remains a known quantity. To me, however, there is a more notable exception.

Not a single Revolution player has been invited.

Last year Kevin Alston and Jeff Larentowicz (then still a Rev, though soon to be traded) represented New England at the camp, and after a stellar rookie season Darrius Barnes was touted as a possible surprise call. Back in 2008, the Revs sent three players to camp in Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan and Michael Parkhurst. This year? Nothing.

(UPDATE: Lizz Summers in the Communications Department informed me that Kevin Alston is rehabbing his hammy and Darrius Barnes is recovering from offseason surgery. I had known but forgot about Barnes' injury but thought that Alston had rehabbed sufficiently to be included. My apologies.)

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how poorly the Revolution played this past season, but it still rankles a bit. I had at least expected a call for Alston, who despite a down year plagued with injuries remains one of the better future options at right back for the national team. Normally this could be chalked up to the relative weakness of the MLS talent pool, but this camp is about blooding MLS players!

Perhaps this speaks more to the effectiveness of the Revolution’s academy and draft strategy. Juan Agudelo features, and is a product of the Red Bull Academy. Teal Bunbury has, like Agudelo, already received his first full cap and was a first-round selection in the 2010 SuperDraft. In fact, I’d like to do a little comparison.

Here’s a list of 2009 and 2010 SuperDraft selections/academy graduates who were invited to camp: Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Zach Loyd, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Johnson, AJ DeLaGarza, Tim Ream, Eric Alexander, and Sam Cronin.

And now, a list of the Revolution’s 2009 and 2010 SuperDraft selections and academy graduates: Kevin Alston, Ryan Maxwell, Andrei Gotsmanov, Dado Hamzagić, Chris Salvaggione, Darrius Barnes, Tyrel Lacey, Zack Schilawski, Seth Sinovic, Zak Boggs, Jason Griffiths, Adam Welch, and Diego Fagundez. That’s thirteen players (seven from 2009, five from 2010 and one homegrown), none of whom made the roster for the January camp. In fact, most of the 2009 selections never even made the club roster.

Schilawski looks to be a good prospect, Sinovic showed some maturity beyond his years and Boggs/Griffiths both looked like fairly able players when not injured, but Adam Welch stayed in school to finish his degree and hasn’t been heard from since. Fagundez, at just fifteen and newly-signed a month or two ago, hasn’t made an appearance for the first team yet.

The successes of players like Taylor Twellman, Shalrie Joseph, Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz, and more recently Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes and Zack Schilawski have led MLS pundits and Revolution fans to label New England as a club that drafts well. On the other hand, the SuperDraft is one of the most popular ways to bring through MLS talent, especially young American talent, and the Revolution are hardly the only club in the country who have done a good job exploiting that avenue.

If the 2009 draft is any indication, they really haven’t done enough. If not for the surprise success of Darrius Barnes, that draft would be a total bust.

Furthermore, in a season that saw several MLS clubs sign multiple academy prospects and actually see considerable success with a few (Andy Najar and Bill Hamid come to mind), the Revolution’s youth system appears to be lagging behind as well. New England has signed just one academy player – just one – who is fifteen years old and unlikely to be a contributor until at least the 2012 season, if even then.

Roster expansion and the return of the Reserve League could prop these numbers but it remains apparent that the front office is not doing nearly enough to draft and/or develop quality young talent. Truthfully, being snubbed for the January camp is just another, more obvious indicator of an increasingly apparent problem within the organization.

The question then becomes: "what can be done about it?" Unfortunately, the answer in the short-term is "nothing." The current Revolution youth academy class seems to have been groomed to produce better collegiate players that can be tracked through their school career and signed later. I’m a huge opponent of this philosophy. The college game is far too different from the next level to benefit prospective professional players unless it’s only for a season or two. These academy prospects need to be developed through the system, signed into the league and given the opportunity to develop in a professional environment.

Instead, it appears most players will be following the Scott Caldwell route. Caldwell, the hero of Akron’s triumph in the College Cup final this year, has told Jeff Lemieux that he plans to stay in college and finish out his four years before considering a return to the Revolution as a professional. Reinforcing this philosophy is U18 standout Cole DeNormandie’s recent commitment to the University of Cincinnati, although it’s debatable whether or not Cole was on the radar to become a first-team signing.

I did an (unpublished) interview with Karl Edmonds, the former Director of Youth Development for the Revs, some months back and it seemed to me that the academy folks and the senior team front office had little communication in terms of who was valued as a prospect and who the first-team coaches had their eyes on. Karl was incredibly accommodating and seemed to have a lot invested in his role, but it was the subjects he was unable to talk much about that said the most in that interview.

I’m hoping that I can snag an interview with the current director, Bryan Scales, to see if the disconnect has been patched up or if, since Fagundez’s signing and the major influx of homegrown acquisitions toward the end of the season, the youth coaches have any clearer an idea on the academy’s future prospects. For the time being, though, the Revolution’s conspicuous absence from the January camp should serve as a major warning flag for an organization in grave danger of being left behind in MLS’s most recent youth movements.