Like everything else in Major League Soccer, the homegrown player rule is somewhat ambiguous and often confusing. When supporters really have a need for a 'Director of Understanding MLS Rules' you know there's something wrong.
Take Corey Hertzog for example.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and having two seasons of Penn State Nittany Lions under his belt, Philadelphia Union thought that he might qualify as a homegrown player as he grew up in their back yard. But the league, in its wisdom, dutifully informed the Union that they were too young to have a homegrown player.
With the fifth selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, the Union passed on him, even though he was a local boy, and a Generation Adidas player. Instead, he went 13th to New York and it was the Red Bulls that benefited from having the talented striker on their books, but not part of their salary budget. Not only does Generation Adidas confer a budget-free player to the club, but it also "means they can pay for my schooling if I want to go back."
As a Red Bull, he didn’t see much action, limited to only five matches. But one of them happened to be in Vancouver, where he came on for Dwayne de Rosario at Empire Field.
"It’s always good to get some minutes in. It was a good experience for me, but it’s funny driving by the old stadium," or rather the empty pit that was the site of the old stadium.
Growing up, Hertzog had the benefit of being coached by his own father, a former goalkeeper.
"He wasn’t a big player; he just played high school and club ball. But he helped me out a lot when I was younger."
No doubt having a coach who was used to being on the receiving end helped his development as a striker, so just what can he bring to Vancouver?
"I think my play is just working and getting in behind. I like to make runs off the two centre backs. Obviously I was with Henry for the past two years, so I learned a lot from him. I just tried to watch him all the time. But any game that’s on, I watch the forwards up top, not really a specific person. Really, I see myself as a poacher."
In the past, Vancouver has had a number of talented strikers, the kind that will score the brilliant, fantastical goals. We seem to excel at the pretty goals, but they are too few, and far between. Sometimes you need a player who’s something of an opportunist, someone with a killer instinct, who knows that a goal doesn’t have to be pretty to show up on the scoreboard. We need someone who can read the game and pounce on the mistakes of our opponents.
"We were playing Houston, we came out, pressured high, and I had turned the ball over, so I wanted to win it back as quickly as possible. I saw the winger look up at the goalie, I knew he was going to pass it back there, and I just read the play."
That was Hertzog's take of his goal against the Dynamo in Arizona at the start of the month. Hertzog found himself on the score sheet against Houston again today. And once again, it was from pouncing on a poor pass back. True poacher's instinct indeed.
As for the upcoming season, Hertzog plans to "keep working hard, try to make the roster, get some time there, and score some goals for Vancouver." And as for the Cascadia Cup, he didn’t know a lot about it before joining the Whitecaps, but "hopefully this year we can bring it home."