“Lacuna – a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series or logical argument; hiatus”
Welcome to the first in a series of articles on soccer I have written for www.SportsAgentBlog.com. I am delighted to have been asked to participate and I hope you, the reader, find them informative.
I am an English-qualified lawyer who is also a soccer Players’ Agent Licensed by The FA (England). In 2007 I decided that there was a real opportunity with the development of soccer in the US. I moved out to Irvine, CA and immediately put my passion for the sport to good use by setting up my own company, Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC (“MESA”). Despite being English, I am very much a fan of all things American and am proud to be a part of soccer’s maturity here in the US. The benefits of being from another country are also that I am able to provide an objective view of the state of the game here. So whilst my articles do not pull any punches, I hope people appreciate the spirit in which they are written – that of a committed fan and businessman who hopes to see soccer’s metamorphosis from past-time to being the 5th major sport here.
One of the main reasons for setting up my business here in the US is to assist in the growth and development of the game of soccer. It cannot be understated just how important youth development is to the realization of that goal.
MLS clubs are now, for the first time, being compelled to run U14, U15, U16, U18 and U20 teams with the pay-off being that they retain the rights to the players they develop. Previously, the clubs had relied almost entirely on an American Football/Basketball/Baseball-style SuperDraft wherein 50 young players were drafted each year by the MLS clubs from the US’s universities. Whilst this system has been excellent in the other American sports, some commentators feel that it has not been quite as effective as far as the MLS is concerned. Their reasoning is that some of the players emerging from the SuperDraft seem, in their view, unprepared for the rigours of professional soccer, as reflected by 2 pertinent quotations taken from leading soccer magazines, which were printed in the same month:
“Every year, it seems, the MLS SuperDraft loses relevance, as the league adds other ways and means for teams to obtain players…” ¹
“The utter inadequacy of the college game as preparation for life in the professional ranks is now beyond dispute”. ²
One must also consider the knock-on effect both for the MLS and the US Men’s National team, the latter of which has struggled of late because of the quality of the players coming through from the youth ranks. Similar problems also exist around the world. The big debate raging in England is trying to ascertain how the country, my home country, which gave the game to the world and has such significant finances and infrastructure, can also be struggling to produce excellent youngsters for its national sport.
This, therefore, is the lacuna to which I refer.
And what of the solutions?
The MLS has recognized the flaws in the system and the implementation of the internal youth policy as well as the relaxation of the strict salary-cap rule (via the Designated Player Rule) will go some way to assisting with the improvement of the standard of play in the MLS. In addition, the fact that in the past top players were generally not paid more than $100,000 per year meant that most young quality foreign players looked elsewhere for more financially rewarding contracts.
What is most exciting both from my standpoint as a Players’ Agent and indeed as a lifelong fan of soccer is that the market is now, in my view, more than ready to handle such changes. As the MLS moves closer each year towards stability and profitability, it is my opinion that the clubs will be able to free up more of their budgets to invest in youth development which is such a vital aspect of the game.
What, you may ask, is an Agent’s role in all of this? The answer is two-fold – to assist in both the clubs’ attempts to create success this way (though doubtless many Youth Academy Managers will take issue with me on this point) and to scout out new raw talent that the clubs may have overlooked. Accordingly, it is my view that Agents can help to bridge the lacuna between finding the young stars of tomorrow and preparing them for a life in the professional ranks of soccer.
A further point of note for MESA is that there are signs that there are plenty of US players good enough to play abroad who have not played at university, notably DaMarcus Beasley (currently at Rangers FC, Scotland), Freddy Adu (who recently signed for Benfica in Portugal) and Landon Donovan (who spent time in Germany’s Bundesliga). It seems that this trend will continue to grow as the American game comes more into line with the rest of the world.
My job is to be open-minded and that includes embracing the SuperDraft. This article is not meant to discredit the process because some very, very good players have been produced by it; the aim is to explore all the options and ensure that the future of the US game is secure. I am extremely positive about the way the game is developing here and am determined to offer the skills and expertise of both me personally, and my company, to ensure the lacuna becomes a thing of the past. That goal will be achieved via the provision of excellent youth players both in and out of the SuperDraft. I hope in time to see the US Men’s National Team competing with the world’s best, such as Argentina, Brazil, France and Italy (and perhaps even England one day!). If there is a ready-made pool of young talent coming through then such aims are far more likely to be achieved.
Max Eppel is a successful soccer Players’ Agent Licensed by The FA. His company is Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC and is based in Irvine, CA. For further information click on www.maxeppelsocceragency.com.
 Soccer America, January 2007 vol. 62, no.1, issue 1613, p. 34, The Search for a Good Pro, by Ridge Mahoney.
 World Soccer, January 2007 issue, p.19, Reach for the Stars, by Paul Gardner.