MLS commentators and fans alike are viewing 2017 as the year of the young player. Young, quality, MLS players come in the form of young Designated Players (and Young Designated Players1), Homegrown players, TAM-level young players, or MLS SuperDraft picks.
The SuperDraft, TAM signings, and Designated Players aren’t usually what people mean by “play your kids.” Young and in-their-prime Designated Players are a side discussion that play your kids advocates generally also desire. Really though, everyone advocates for young and in their prime Designated Players to join MLS.
The beginning of the season presents plenty of issues for teams around the league and this little study won’t have a larger meaning than the title states. Plenty of SuperDraft picks don’t play Week 1. New Homegrown players generally don’t play the opening game of the same year they sign. Teams want to get off to a good start and veterans give a more assured outcome in many cases.
Play your kids is often more about depth and future development than it is about artificially lowering the age of a team by starting young players that haven’t earned it. Now that all the caveats are out-of-the-way, let’s see what each team looked like from an age perspective in Week 1.
Below is the table that shows how old each team was in Week 1. Click the footnote for an explanation of the columns.2
Montreal fielded, by far, the oldest 11 and selected the third highest 18-man squad. They did give promising youth prospect Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla 27 minutes in his debut. The soon-to-be 18-year-old midfielder was the second youngest player on the weekend.
This would normally be a surprise, but Tabla’s fellow Canadian prospect Alphonso Davies is already well known in MLS circles. Including Tabla in their 11 Age would certainly make the Impact look younger, but the core of this team is over 30 years old. Nine of the 11 highest minute players for Montreal are over 30, with Patrice Bernier (37) more than offsetting any adjustment Tabla would bring.
It’s no surprise to see Vancouver as one of only three squads that fielded a team younger than their overall average age. The 16-year-old Davies played 90 minutes and Kekuta Manneh (22) played another 59 minutes. They’re a young team, but the presence of Davies represents an extreme in calculating this statistic.
Atlanta had the largest difference between the age of their 18-man squad and their 11 Age. After impressing in the preseason and presumably in training camp, it’s no surprise that the younger attacking players displaced Kenwyne Jones (32) – the presumptive starting forward for most of the build up to the season. Atlanta started seven players 25 or younger and also gave Anton Walkes (20) nine minutes in relief of Leandro González Pírez.
There’s no larger finding here. No revealed secret to the future of the season. Age is a decent proxy for experience, but plenty of young players around the league can be classified as veterans. None of this accounts for which young players are Homegrown, SuperDraft picks, young TAM signings, etc.
This question is immensely more complicated than this article even attempts to capture. It’s simply interesting to see which teams had the guts, the need, or the ability to start this season with their young talents instead of their “steady” veterans.
Avg Age is the average age of the 18-man squad selected for the game. 11 Age is the age of the players with the 11 highest minutes totals for the team (mostly starters). 11Age – Age shows the difference between the two statistics above showing whether a team played relatively younger or older players of the 18 selected for the squad. ↩