Friday, 19 Apr 2024

The Changing Landscape of Making the MLS: Is College Soccer Still the Best Path?

what percent of soccer players go pro

Every year, college soccer seniors eagerly anticipate the Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft as the stepping stone to their dreams of playing for an MLS franchise. However, as the landscape of American soccer evolves, the role of college soccer in producing professional players is undergoing a shift.

The Declining Significance of the MLS Draft

Over the years, the number of college soccer players making it onto the field in MLS games has been decreasing. In fact, the MLS recently shortened the draft from four rounds to three due to the increasing number of organizations choosing to pass on their selection. This decline is evident in the statistics as well. According to, from the 2013-2019 MLS drafts, teams passed on 10% of the allotted 632 draft picks. Out of the players selected, only 46.7% went on to sign professional contracts with an MLS team.

The Rise of MLS Academies

MLS academies are gradually sidelining college soccer as a pipeline to the pros. The success story of Brendan Aaronson, who joined the Philadelphia Union’s academy while still in high school and eventually signed a contract with RB Salzburg, exemplifies this trend. MLS academies have their own youth development programs, allowing them to groom players according to their specific systems and philosophies. The MLS teams have the flexibility to sign an unlimited number of homegrown players each year, and these players do not count against the team’s salary budget.

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Since 2017, each MLS franchise has invested in its own youth academy, signaling a significant shift in the league’s approach. This change is not without reason. MLS teams have witnessed a steady increase in the number of homegrown players signing first-team contracts. A visual representation of the rise in homegrown players in the MLS from 2016 to 2020 can be seen in the image below.

Is playing College Soccer the best route to making the MLS?

To become a homegrown player, an individual must have played for an MLS development academy for at least one year and started before the age of 15. Additionally, they must reside in the club’s region. A player’s graduation from the youth academy can lead to a “homegrown contract” if the team shows interest.

The Value of College Soccer

While the dominance of MLS academies raises questions about the relevance of college soccer, it still holds immense value for aspiring players. Besides pursuing their dreams of playing professionally, college soccer offers players an opportunity to obtain an education. It can be a stepping stone for personal growth and development.

Darren Eales, the winner of the 2020 NCAA Silver Award, underscores the significance of college soccer in his journey. He speaks highly of the pride he felt in earning a degree from an Ivy League institution like Brown. Eales’s story exemplifies how college soccer provides opportunities beyond the field.


Q: Is college soccer becoming less important in the path to the MLS?
A: The rise of MLS academies and the increasing number of homegrown players have diminished the significance of college soccer in the MLS player development pathway. However, college soccer remains a valuable experience for young players to pursue their dreams while also earning an education.

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Q: What are the advantages of MLS academies over college soccer?
A: MLS academies allow teams to groom players according to their specific systems and philosophies, resulting in a smoother transition to professional play. Additionally, MLS teams can sign an unlimited number of homegrown players each year, providing greater opportunities for young talent.

Q: Can college soccer players still make it to the MLS?
A: Yes, college soccer players can still make it to the MLS. While the number of college players drafted and signing professional contracts is decreasing, college soccer can serve as a platform for personal growth, development, and the pursuit of professional opportunities.


The landscape of making the MLS is evolving, with MLS academies gaining prominence over college soccer. While the MLS draft is becoming less vital in player recruitment, college soccer still offers a valuable experience for aspiring players. It allows them to chase their dreams while also obtaining an education. As the soccer landscape continues to shift, it is essential to consider multiple paths to success, both on and off the field.