Climbing the Ladder: Youngest MLS squads

Dynamo rank as fourth youngest team in MLS so far in 2011

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Photo Credit: 
Anthony Vasser/Houston Dynamo

Over the years, looking at the MLS average age can explain quite a
bit of the league’s history: consistent from 1996 to 2001, dropping in
2002 after contraction and rising upon expansion and the
introduction of the Designated Player rule.

Now for the second
straight season, the league’s average age is poised to drop as home-grown players grow in influence and younger foreign stars are more
easily signed. The average age for the 2011 MLS season so far is 27.15 years, down from 27.36 in 2010 and 27.57 in 2009.

How are these numbers calculated? Each player is given an age
for the season, the exact age that they are on July 1. That’s usually
right about the midpoint of the season (this year it’s July 2).
Each player’s age is then multiplied by their number of minutes played
to take into account playing time, then divided by the league’s
total number of minutes played. Doing that for every player, it’s easy
to figure out an average age for the league or an individual
team.

How do the 18 MLS teams rank this season in terms of age? Here’s a countdown from youngest to oldest:

18) Portland Timbers – 25.60 years

17) Vancouver Whitecaps 25.71 years

Major League Soccer’s two newest teams are also its two
youngest. It’s actually not the norm for first-year teams to be this
young. No previous expansion team has finished as the youngest
team, and only Toronto and Philadelphia ended up among the three
youngest.

As
it stands now, both Portland and Vancouver are among the 10 youngest
teams in league history. Who’s the youngest MLS team ever? At 24.71
years, the 2004 MetroStars were more than half a year younger than the
second-place 2007 Dallas team. Bob Bradley’s second year with the
New York franchise saw him unafraid to place young players in
important roles, with 17-year-old Eddie Gaven becoming the youngest-ever Best XI recipient.

16) Toronto FC – 25.98 years

Toronto
debuted in 2007 with an average age of 26.57, and they've bounced up
and down ever since. But this is their youngest team yet, thanks in
large part to the trade of veteran Dwayne De Rosario and last year's retirement of Jim Brennan.

15) Houston Dynamo – 26.05 years

After parting ways with several veterans, this is quite a drop
for 2010’s oldest team. The only player older than 30 to see minutes this season has
been Brian Ching; also available but yet to see the field is Eddie Robinson.
As a result, only 1.09 percent of the team’s minutes have been played
by 30-plus players, easily the league low. Only four teams have
ended the year in single digits for that category.

14) Chicago Fire – 26.17 years

The
Fire were the second-oldest team in the league when they reached the
Eastern Conference Championship in 2008, largely on the backs of
veterans like Cuauhtémoc Blano, Brian McBride, C.J. Brown and Jon Busch.
But those days are gone, leaving the Fire with their youngest team
since the 2004 squad, which missed the postseason for the first time in
franchise history.

13) New England Revolution – 26.35 years

The Revs made conflicting moves in the offseason in terms of age (additions like A.J. Soares and Didier Domi),
leaving them with roughly the same collective age as in 2010. In fact,
they haven't deviated much since they averaged 27.14 in 2008.

12) D.C. United – 26.67 years

Forty-three-year-old Pat Onstad’s three starts have had quite the impact on the team’s age, with replacement Bill Hamid
less than half as old. If Hamid had started those games
instead of the all time oldest MLS player, then DC would rank as the
league’s youngest team.

They actually did hold that title in 2010,
and despite last year’s performance, a young team has worked out well
for United over the years. They’ve never ranked higher than sixth-oldest
in an MLS season.

11) Columbus Crew – 26.81 years

Since the hiring of Sigi Schmid for the 2006 season and
continuing with Robert Warzycha, they’ve been among the younger half of
the league, and it’s been successful for them.

10) Sporting Kansas City – 27.18 years

KC have traditionally been the oldest of the original MLS
teams. They’ve finished in the older half of the league in 12 out of 15
seasons.

9) Chivas USA – 27.58 years

The Goats are actually an older team this year than they were last, perhaps in part because of the the losses of Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan and the addition of veterans Jimmy Conrad and Alejandro Moreno.

8) Los Angeles Galaxy – 27.63 years

When Bruce Arena took over, he added familiar American veterans like Gregg Berhalter, Jovan Kirovski,
Eddie Lewis and Tony Sanneh to help right the ship. As a
result, his first full year with the Galaxy in 2009 ended up with the
team as the fourth-oldest in league history, at 29.04 years.

Last year, the team got two years younger at 27.05 and had an
even more successful regular season. So far, the 2011 team has been
appears to be likely to fall somewhere in between.

7) Colorado Rapids – 27.90 years

The 2010 MLS Cup champions had an unusually high amount of
players in the 25-29 age range, the third-highest percentage in league
history at 68.38 percent of minutes. Of course, the top team
all-time was the 2009 Rapids, and they won nothing.

6) Real Salt Lake – 27.91 years

With only four games played, the younger reserve lineup fielded
against New England a week ago means that this number may rise as the
season goes on.

5) FC Dallas – 28.04 years

With Fabián Castillo and Ruben Luna
getting minutes, Dallas have had the largest contribution
percentage-wise from teenage players this season at 9.18 percent
of minutes played. Only five teams have ended the year in double
figures, one of which was last year’s Philadelphia Union.

4) Philadelphia Union – 28.12 years

Speaking of the Union, they’re an older and so far improved team in 2011. With the additions of Brian Carroll, Carlos Ruiz and especially Faryd Mondragón, they’ve risen from 13th to fourth in the age rankings.

One interesting thing is that like last year, they have a team
with many players who are much younger or older. In 2010, they had the
lowest percentage of minutes played by 20- to 29-year-olds. So
far this season, they’re the third-lowest.

3) Seattle Sounders FC – 28.29 years

This is the oldest team in the Sounders' brief history, even without Blaise Nkufo. Still, expect this number to drop in 2012 with Kasey Keller hanging 'em up.

2) San Jose Earthquakes – 28.30 years

Going against the league's current trend, the Quakes
are practically getting older with every year. Aside from a quick dip
below the 28 mark last season, they've averaged at least 28 years per
player since their rebirth in 2008. The only other team to boast similar
numbers are the Dynamo, who are planning for the future this season
with one of the youngest teams in the league. Will the Quakes someday
follow suit?

1) New York Red Bulls – 28.74 years

With the trading of Toni Tchani (22) and Danleigh Borman
(25) for De Rosario (33), this is a team that’s built to win now.
If they do, they could follow in the footsteps of the 2007 Houston
Dynamo, who are the only team to win the MLS Cup as the league’s oldest
team.