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Did Sebastien Ibeagha ever have a chance to succeed in US Soccer?

Is the current youth development system in the United States helping or hindering player development at the youth level? Sebastien Ibeagha is a good example, and we take a look at where he is now.

Do youth players really have a choice?
Do youth players really have a choice?
Kevork Djansezian

The opinions and views expressed herein are solely the views of Fuzion and should not be held as a reflection of the views of anyone at SBNation, including other Dynamo Theory writers and editors.

A couple of weeks ago I had written an article, which ultimately I didn't feel comfortable having posted and representative of Dynamo Theory. While there was a solid basis for the opinions expressed within the article, the way they were worded left a bad taste in some mouths. In order to give the topic the representation it rightfully deserves, hoping to bring some awareness to the truth of the topic, I am re-writing it.

Please understand from the outset there is no intention to ruffle feathers or create some sort of controversy. I have a lot of respect for US Soccer and how they conduct their business, but I still feel it is my duty to offer what very miniscule perspective I have to you so you may have an opportunity to form your own opinions and conclusions.

A couple of weeks ago I followed a link from Twitter to an article which you can read here. When I first read the article, I honestly became infuriated at Sebastien Ibeagha for spurning offers from the Houston Dynamo, which he admits were extremely competitive with the rest of Major League Soccer. Such an offer, had it been accepted, would have kept an immensely talented center back with the club for at least the next 3-5 years.

The more I examined his words and the example he had to go by which is the career of his brother, Christian Ibeagha, the more I realized the position Sebastien found himself in was incredibly unfair. As a developing future professional soccer player, and potentially soccer star, the young man found himself with three choices: play for Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer for the next 3-5 seasons, play in a lower-tier league in the US such as NASL, or head to Europe and hope to find his place with a team willing to take a chance on developing his talent.

Sebastien's brother, Christian, took part of the US Soccer residency program eventually landing with Duke University. By his senior season, he was ready for the next step and signed with FC Dallas. Three months later, Christian began a journeyman career bouncing around between multiple clubs domestically before eventually landing with a club overseas.

One of Sebastien's biggest concerns centers around how as a professional soccer player, Christian was cast-off just three months into a contract with the club. I'm not sure what the conditions were surrounding the release of his brother, but I do know he suffered a pretty severe injury midway through his senior season at Duke. I think the real point, however, is up until FC Dallas, Christian was considered by many to be a future star.

Then again, we've seen how future stars turn out, haven't we? We only have to examine the hype of Freddy Adu followed by what amounts to a rather uninspiring professional career.

The real question is where does the blame fall for such disasters?

When a young player is developing, MLS Academies will try to recruit them. The academy system is designed to be conducive to the growth of the player's natural skills and talents in a constructive environment in an effort to eventually land them a professional soccer career. In theory, this system is identical to academies from other leagues in other countries.

Where theory diverts from reality is in the player's conclusion of time with the academy. If the player is coveted enough by the club, they will be offered a Home Grown Player contract. These contracts, in my personal opinion, ultimately stunt the growth of the player. Take for instance Sebastien.

Sebastien could have signed a 3 year Home Grown Player contract with the Houston Dynamo. For those three years, where would Sebastien have found himself? Starting for the club? Really? We all know Dominic Kinnear is a fan of the slow development approach, as has been evidenced with previous youth players who came through the Dynamo system to the professional level.

While Sebastien may have eventually seen the field, he would have missed out on significantly valuable time playing against some of the best players the world has to offer. Yet he would have been mostly stuck, without much recourse other than to either force a transfer (which rarely works) or try to move to NASL, the third division of the US Soccer Federation.

Further, the way Home Grown Player contracts are structured, a player may be subjected to two more years of this treatment, as two additional league/club options exist on all Home Grown Player contracts. For five years of Sebastien's professional career, he could easily have found himself riding the pine over the course of multiple seasons, losing valuable time and earning potential.

How is this to the benefit of the player? Take a chance on finding playing time with a single team or end up relegated to reserve or USL-Pro matches, hoping to impress there? Ultimately, most players who possess enough talent would consider the option to test the waters in Europe far more conducive to the growth of a professional career.

While certainly, players have the right to make the choice, it is ludicrous MLS forces such choices upon the very players they would prefer to keep within their league. After all, if the goal is to raise the talent level of the player pool, don't they also need to invest in the growth of their own youth?

At the end of the day, very little will ultimately change. Perhaps the affiliation with USL-Pro will allow for better growth paths for younger players to find their way into a long-term starting role with a club. Perhaps it won't. All I know is I desire to see Major League soccer as a part of a US players journey, and not just a repository of talent that could have been but never was.

What do you think?