Major League Soccer has a Homegrown Player Rule that allows a team to sign a player from its own youth academy directly to a professional contract, without subjecting him to the SuperDraft. The rule was implemented in 2007 and is still evolving as MLS academy programs steadily improve and expand their reach.
MLS provides the public with very little information about the Homegrown Player Rule, leaving many to speculate on its operation. At times it seems like even MLS teams themselves have to guess whether a player will qualify to become Homegrown.
What is clear is this: A player residing within an MLS team's Home Territory may become Homegrown after 1 year of membership (about 80 games or practices) in the club's academy. MLS determines the size of each Home Territory, effectively limiting the recruiting scope of the academy, although every team gets at least 2 territorial exceptions to this requirement.
The general rule is that a team's Home Territory is a 75-mile radius around either their stadium or training facility. For several teams this area has been adjusted to accommodate for smaller population densities or other MLS teams situated nearby.
This limitation on the academy's scope brings up an interesting issue with the San Jose Earthquakes, who are building a new stadium and training facility in San Jose.
According to the MLS website, the Home Territory for the Quakes is a 75-mile radius around their training facility, not their stadium (which would be Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium for now).
Whether this designation means a 75-mile radius surrounding the Quakes' youth or first-team training facility changes the geographic scope of Home Territory because the two facilities are located more than 40 miles apart. Currently, the Quakes academy train in Danville, while the first-team train in San Jose at the location of future stadium.
Presuming MLS has set the Quakes Home Territory as a 75-mile radius around the academy training facility in Danville in the East Bay, the BLUE CIRCLE on the map below shows what areas would be included.
On the other hand, if the Home Territory is a 75-mile radius around the first-team training facility in San Jose in the South Bay, where the academy will likely also train when the stadium is complete, the GREEN CIRCLE indicates what areas would be included.
The difference is significant because the BLUE CIRCLE encompasses the Santa Rosa and Sacramento ares, while the GREEN CIRCLE excludes those areas in favor of Monterey and Salinas. Although Monterey and Salinas are closer to San Jose, Santa Rosa and Sacramento have more residents and generally produce better soccer players. In fact, Kendall McIntosh (Santa Rosa, CA) is considered by Top Drawer Soccer to be the most likely to become the Quakes' first Homegrown player.
If the BLUE CIRCLE accurately reflects the Quakes' current Home Territory, with their new stadium not set to be completed for 1 more year (see the academy membership requirement above), now is the time for the Quakes to acquire Homegrown Player rights to academy players from the areas in the BLUE CIRCLE.
The second the Quakes academy moves their training facility to San Jose they will be required to use one of their territorial exceptions to sign a player from the BLUE CIRCLE, wasting a territorial exception that could be used on players from Fresno - another area of Northern California that produces talented players and lies outside of either circle.
Of course this all depends on what MLS determines is the epicenter of the Quakes' Home Territory. However, unless the league has explicitly notified the Quakes otherwise - in which case it would be nice if MLS told the public, especially the players themselves - the Quakes have a tenable claim to acquire Homegrown Status for players within the BLUE CIRCLE without having to use a territorial exception.
The Homegrown Player Rule is still a bit murky and vague, so let us know if you have additional information to provide about how it really works. The more MLS teams understand the rule, the more they can take advantage of its benefits.