Philadelphia Union’s young striker Jack McInerney saw a significant increase in playing time as the 2012 season wound down. While this could also be attributable to head coach John Hackworth putting more faith in the youngster or injuries to his teammates above him in the pecking order, I see his playing time as a result of not having promotion or relegation in MLS.
In the 12 games since Philadelphia lost 2-0 to Montreal on August 4, Jack McInerney has been one of the most influential players for the Union. With that loss in Montreal, Philadelphia’s playoff probability never rose up to 5% according to Sports Club Stats. Head coach John Hackworth knew the team had little more than pride to play for and opted to bleed in young talent. Jack Mack started 10 of 12 games at the end of the season and played a total of 906 minutes from 1080 possible. The young striker repaid his manager’s faith by scoring 4 goals and notching an assist in a four game stretch that included two ‘man of the match’ performances.
When the New England Revolution lost to Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on August 1, their playoff chances never rose above 2%. Since September, when the Revolution’s playoff hopes hung on a negligible decimal place, Diego Fagundez played 520 out of 720 possible minutes in the final 8 games of the season. Prior to that, the young Uruguayan youth international had only clocked 350 minutes in the league out of the 12 matches he featured in during the first 6 months of the season.
17 year old Homegrown Player signing, Marco Delgado made his debut for Chivas USA during a 4-0 loss to Vancouver after the team had already been eliminated from playoff contention. You could argue that Delgado simply came on in a game that was a lost cause, but there were other games earlier in the season (namely 6 other times the team was losing by at least 3 goals after Delgado signed) in which they could have played the youngster but didn’t. It was only after the team had their postseason hopes dashed that the U.S. u18 midfielder suited up for his club.
When the Impact’s mathematical chances of making the playoffs were barely above 1%, Jesse Marsch decided to play Karl Ouimette. The young Homegrown signing played 64 minutes against Houston and featured late in a win against San Jose. The first appearance, coming in a 3-0 loss, was facilitated by the fact that Montreal’s playoff hopes were far-fetched at best.
Only after the Timbers were all but eliminated from the postseason, Interim Head Coach Gavin Wilkinson elected to start Homegrown signing Brent Richards for two matches against Chivas USA and against FC Dallas.
All of these young players saw more time in first team matches towards the end of the 2012 MLS season. While many factors could have contributed to the coaches’ decisions to play their youngsters, such as the athlete’s personal development or injuries to the first choice options, coaches are more likely to give minutes to young players because of “lame-duck” games in MLS. At the end of seasons in other leagues, teams have to perform in order to avoid relegation. Because there is no relegation in MLS, coaches are more willing to aid the development of their young players by giving them chances with the first team in late season league matches.