Earthquakes teen Homegrown acquisitions run deeper than signing a pair of gifted 15-year-olds
PHOTO: SJEarthquakes Twitter, ISI Photos
When the signings of Jacob Akanyirige and Gilbert Fuentes were officially announced, a peculiar aura followed.
In recent years, primarily due to top European academies prowling on its top youth talent, the San Jose Earthquakes lacked privilege to even contemplate signing a 15-year-old, more so two in the same transfer window. Yet the crux of the club’s recent youth arrivals lies further than penning a pair of teens to, what we can assume being, league-minimum Homegrown contracts.
The club, which sits in one of the country’s most elusive hotbeds of youth talent, looks to be entwined and ready to capitalize on a historically underachieving use of its Homegrown pipeline. The persona orchestrating the adjustments: general manager Jesse Fioranelli.
The Swiss, who has extensive appreciation and understanding of youth development, is implementing a vision that is drilled into servants of top-flight European clubs, more so to a prestigious clubs such as AS Roma, his former employer. That vision? Making an investment in the youth system a tradition, not practice.
Aside from the once proposed 44-acre, $37 million academy complex, that has vanished from the lips of Quakes officials, Fioranelli and Co. have been ticking all the boxes that, in return, have brought a new structure to the club’s youth pipeline. Perhaps more telling, were the losses of youth products Dillon Keane — who was acquired by Stoke City — and Stuart Ritchie — who is applying his trade with Groningen of the Eredivisie — in the midst of the club’s regime change last year.
To be clear, every MLS club will, from time to time, be outdone, outbid by top European clubs for its youth talent. But the desire is to create a sustainable model that will potentially encourage certain talent to snub possible moves abroad. The Quakes have done exactly that — not only with the signing of Akanyirige and Fuentes, but with the acquisitions of JT Marcinkowski and Nick Lima within a year’s time.
For instance, Marcinkowski, 20, emphasized that the motive behind his decision to leave Georgetown to join the Quakes was largely based on the opportunity to be able to don the crest of his boyhood club — which will surely resonate on current and upcoming Quakes academy players. Bar in Lima, who is head and shoulders the club’s most talented Homegrown player, and the notion of a Quakes academy alum being considered by the U.S. Men’s national team is all but rubber stamped. Tommy Thompson, too, has set a standard that demonstrates that longevity and growth — both as a player and professional — can occur at Avaya Stadium.
With all that said, it’s known that the Quakes, along with other lower-spending MLS clubs, are turning a corner that won’t encourage complacency on the academy side. This makes San Jose’s reformation of their Homegrown culture ahead of the start of the campaign logical. With outliers such as Atlanta United spending upwards of $15 million on a single signing, and MLS allowing its clubs to keep the entirety of transfer fees collected from selling academy products, clubs like San Jose will hope to land big bucks from Homegrown talent to keep up with the lavish demands.
Fioranelli and Co.’s newly implemented vision towards the youth system, the standards set by the seasoned Homegrowns, the motives and ambition behind the recent Homegrown signings and the club’s advantageous geographical location: all serve as factors as to why San Jose can potentially be the league’s first constant exporter of youth talent.