As Major League Soccer has grown and expanded over the last 20 years, so has its academy system. Homegrown signings are a regularly and increasingly common sight in the league, and this phenomenon is apparent with the New England Revolution. Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell, formerly members of the Revs U-18 academy team, are integral members of the first team squad and are some of the brighter young guns in the league as a whole.
However, many people don’t quite understand how MLS’, and more specifically the Revs’ academy is structured. They know that U-16 and U-18 teams exist, but the development infrastructure for kids in their college years is often vague and misunderstood. Throw in the fact that many teams are turning towards a reserve team like LA Galaxy II (who plays in the USL), the system becomes a lot that more complex.
Teams such as LA Galaxy II act almost like a U-23 team in the academy structure and provide college-aged players, as well as those who are unable to earn regular first-team minutes, a place to play and showcase their talents. Simply, the U-23 structure fills a void that has for a long time been a gaping hole in MLS’ player development.
Turning towards the Revs, this U-23-type team does not officially have a title like "Revs II", but there is infrastructure in place that many New England fans do not know about. The Real Boston Rams club, who are a member of the Premier Developmental League’s (PDL) Northeast Division, have a strong affiliation with the Revs.
The Rams, who play 14 games across a 10 to 12 week summer season, essentially act as the Revs’ U-23 team and fill a vital role in developing college-aged players for the Revs.
"Until the Revs organization steps up and says that they want a U-23 team of their own, the Rams are that role for them," said Hobie Hare, who is the GM and Head Coach of the Rams, as well as the Revs’ Director of Academy Operations. "Our kids who come through the Academy system have a place to play at. It’s such an important relationship to have because it serves as an outlet for the talent that comes through."
With the affiliation and close relationship with the Rams in place, players who have advanced through the Revs academy system then have the opportunity to stay closely linked with the organization as a whole. For example, Mitch Taintor, who came through the Revs academy system and is now at Rutgers, spent the majority of his past summer training with the Revs, but playing games with the Rams.
Many other Revs academy prospects are on their Revs’ radar and play for the Rams over the summer. Willis Griffith, who plays at Villanova, and Cole DeNormandie, who plays at Boston College, are just a couple of examples of other academy graduates. Regardless of the name or school, the end goal is advancing the players towards the first team and continuing their development.
"The Revs organization will always do their due diligence on any of the kids, but for someone like Dominic Machado, who plays at Providence College, he is on the Homegrown radar," Hare said. "There are plenty more of those kids coming through, too. The Rams and Revs affiliation makes us one in the same. We are both doing our best to get these kids to the first team and that’s really the purpose of the partnership."
While the Revs affiliation acts as a formative driving force for the Rams, the fact of the matter is that players who didn’t partake in the Revs academy structure are also a crucial part of the roster. For example, Keasel Broome and Dominique Badji, who are respectively in preseason camp with the San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids, were integral members of the Rams team in 2014.
Broome and Badji were standout Division-One players, but the Rams also turn to other areas and pipelines of talent to make up their roster. Specifically the Division-Three ranks, which are often overlooked and deemed as unlikely sources of talent, help constitute the Rams team.
Sam Williams (Tufts), Maxime Hoppenot (Tufts), Luke Finkelstein (Wheaton), Mohammed Rashid (Williams), and Eric Anderson (formerly Babson) all saw significant minutes last summer. These kinds of players may not play for the Revs one day, but they still have an important role.
"All these other guys are part of the Rams process over the summer too," Hare said. "It’s much bigger than solely Division-One players or Revs Academy players. There are also the kids who are residents and don’t go to school. They are from some place like Portugal or Brazil, and we should have two kids like that on the team this summer."
Considering the makeup of the Rams, who will play this summer at Milton High School, the organization plays a vital role in the development of Boston-based and Revs-based players. While there are many obstacles to growth, such as not having their own stadium or training facility, the Rams-Revs partnership has proven its worth the last couple seasons.
However, how long the partnership remains in this style remains to be seen, especially as more and more teams push for a U-23 team that plays in the USL division. The Revs currently utilize the Rochester Rhino’s team as a place where younger players can develop and get minutes, but there is hope that one day the Rams could take on that mold.
Given that the Rams are an established pillar of the New England soccer community, the possibility of them reaching the "Revs II" level is not that far off.
"We would love to be a USL-Pro team down the road," he said. "As things stand now, the Revs send their kids up to Rochester, which is a great team, but it’s pretty far away and hard to see them every week."
"If the Rams were to be that team, the Revs would have an eye on them, would know what is happening, and the system is the same. That’s the ideal situation and I know that more and more franchises are going in that direction. The dream is to become something of the Revs II variety."