This question can basically be broken down in to three different time periods, the short term, the medium term and the long term.
Let’s start with the short term which will actually concern the full question here, will youth help San Antonio FC make the playoffs? It’s clear that these young players made the difference on Saturday against Reno 1868 FC but does that difference continue through the rest of the season to push SAFC through to the post-season. Of the three time periods this one is the easiest to look at statistically with the caveat that prior performance does not necessarily indicate future performance and there is a small sample size.
The decision to bring on Jose Gallegos came at half-time, so when looking at the impact of youth we can look at the stats for the second half compared to the first half. Behind 2-1 at half-time something needed to happen, passing wasn’t bad but the whole middle of the opponent’s half was empty with only four successful dribbles and no successful crosses. In the chart below the dribbles are triangles and the shots are circles.
In the second half all of these increased, more shots, more dribbles and more successful crosses, one that actually resulted in a goal.
But the big question is how much of this would be due to Gallegos? Notably the number 27 appears in there the most, with three successful dribbles and two shots, he was clearly a big impact.
To further look in to Gallegos’ impact we can look at his touch chart compared to Cristian Parano whom he replaced, first Parano and then Gallegos.
This shows just how active Gallegos was compared to Parano, getting into the box more often to get the chances Parano wasn’t. It’s clear he had a big impact on the game. Will it be enough to make the playoffs? It’s an uphill battle for SAFC, but if Gallegos can reproduce this on the road it seems possible that the club could sneak into the playoffs.
Now for the medium term, which I’d consider can the academy produce enough youngsters to replenish the squad? To assess this the best place to look is how many academy players are coming through. This year there are three, Gallegos, Leo Torres, and Carson Price. Last season saw Ethan Bryant as the first signing. It’s already paying off, gaining three players from the academy for the first team in a season is a pretty good return, in addition to that the big benefit has been seen this season, the academy provides a stream of replacements that can come in mid-season.
Now for the long-term, can the academy be a long term thing for providing stars? On this one I’m going to say no for a handful of reasons. Looking at FC Dallas as a direct comparison for this, eight of its current squad are “home-grown” players. Of those maybe two are genuinely starring for the club, and in the history of the club only 24 have been signed.
But all of that brings up a massive hurdle for San Antonio, with no MLS on the horizon SAFC doesn’t get homegrown player protection, so its best prospects will always have tempting offers to leave and with Austin FC just up I-35 they wouldn’t even need to move far. Beyond that it’s hard for non-MLS clubs to spend all this money in developing players as there’s no fees required for MLS teams to snap these players up and push them in their academy. But that’s a discussion for another day.