Right now, that is the most important question among Academy Directors at MLS clubs across the country.
On Tuesday, Columbus Crew announced a groundbreaking move, that enables the MLS academy to partner with the Michigan Wolves, also known as the Derby County Wolves. The basic premise of the partnership is Columbus funds the Michigan club, and in return the Wolves players are now part of the Crew Home Grown list.*
The partnership with Derby County was set to expire in July and Wolves Director of Coaching Brian Doyle was actively searching for a new sponsor for the academy by January of this year. It wasn't bitterness or hostility that had the Wolves looking for a partner elsewhere, it was the fact that they had out-performed the current conditions of the partnership and wanted to look at something more enticing. Added to the fact Doyle was aware of how difficult it was for an American to qualify for a work permit in England, the partnership was unrealistic in the long-term.
When we spoke, he made it clear that unless an offer from a European club was jaw dropping, the new partnership would likely be with a local company. Since then, Columbus stepped in and took advantage of a new opportunity. **
No other club has had the foresight to actively engage in a partnership with another club outside the immediate proximity - say 100 miles in any given direction. Actually, that is not entirely true, other MLS clubs have established satellite clubs [RSL in Florida, Fire in Mississippi, etc.], but this will be the first with a pre-existing member of the Development Academy.
Granted, Philadelphia Union does something to this effect with multiple clubs, but those are all in the greater Philadelphia area. And while FC Delco is an impressive historic youth academy, it doesn’t have the same recent success as the Michigan Wolves [four national championships plus a handful of potential stars in the coming years at the international stage]. Perhaps, the Union’s tactics helped open the door for the Crew to explore this opportunity though?
One would have to believe that Columbus had to run this by the MLS offices before it began any serious discussion about the partnership. The greater Detroit area is an unmarked territory for MLS clubs, so that wouldn’t be a problem, but this still starts a precedent that many clubs will likely follow in the coming months/years.
For the motivated clubs [and there are motivated clubs in MLS that want to build their youth academies] this could be the start of the arm’s race. Columbus/Michigan Wolves put a price on success at the youth level. I have no idea what that figure is. And I doubt Columbus wants the financial implications of this move to be public at this point. The best I can do is guestimate.
I know that the estimated cost to run a program like the Michigan Wolves Academy [just U-16 and U-18] is between $20,000 - $50,000 per year.