My story from a few weeks ago regarding Dillon Serna got linked on an Akron-based forum called ZipsNation, as the forum-dwellers were talking about Serna's possible -- inevitable, almost, considering the Rapids' want for another creative force in the midfield -- move to MLS this year.
Unsurprisingly, most of them were against the move. Not only because he would be one of many talented players leaving the Zips this season alongside Caleb Porter, but because he's still very much a work in progress. We know it, and they know it.
This post in particular by the Ampaipitakwong-esque named fknbuflobo got my attention:
Agreed. I did not offer Dillon Serna because he was not on the original posting to which I was responding. I truthfully do not know much about the Rapids. I like Serna's play quite a bit. He has a good offensive mind and quick feet. The turning point last match was his injury and departure. But that is the knock on him. He has struggled to remain healthy this, his only, season. He will need to be much tougher and durable. Or grow 6 inches. The MLS will chew him and spit him, and not think twice about it. He is less ready to turn professional than the three super sophomores listed above. Serna needs at least another year, just to acquire a man's physique. Compare Serna to Michael Nanchoff.
It's an interesting question to be sure, and one that will determine whether or not he turns into just another great homegrown prospect that fizzles out within a year or three, the kind that got released by the bucket-full by seemingly every MLS team prior to this year's waiver draft. (Incidentally, I think that was more an inevitable occurrence more than anything. Homegrown signings are a fairly new concept after all, and many teams were more concerned with getting them at all than getting future superstars out of the batch. There was going to be a mass exodus, and if there wasn't, there was going to be some manner of revolution in US soccer if all the young guys suddenly worked out at the same time!)
There are a few things that are out of his control, of course. The biggest knock on him is always going to be his size, and that might keep him injury prone his entire career. He's not going to grow another six inches or 50 pounds unless he magically finds a potion to induce a second puberty. Since there are no Wizards left in MLS, I don't see that happening. (And with that, the pun quota for the month is filled.)
However, his need to continue to grow into the small frame that he has does not change my opinion on the matter. I think my answer to the question is fairly obvious, I believe they should sign him up on that homegrown contract as quickly as possible.
I think the problem that fknbuflobo may have is that Serna may be seen as a player who would be required to actually see the pitch for Colorado if they were to pick him up. Thrown right into the rough and tumble of headbutts from Steven Lenhart and elbows from Wells Thompson. If that were true, this would be a completely different story.
Now, had you asked me this question two years ago -- in this particular scenario, you also have to pretend that Serna is the same age he is now and still an upcoming Sophomore with Akron, work with me here -- my answer would have been a flat-out no. Gary Smith was a guy who hated youth. It was as though the concept of youth came to life à la Frosty the Snowman and killed his puppy as a child or something, he was so vehemently against it. He tried to trade draft picks, got rid of half the guys he drafted anyway and seemed to only sign Davy Armstrong because it made a nice story. Certainly, he didn't sign him to put him out on the pitch at any point.
There's a different way about the Rapids now though, a youth movement being led by youth-masters Oscar Pareja and Wilmer Cabrera. Though their actual managerial abilities took a few hits this season, there's no denying the work that they've done with kids before. Pareja helped to build the best youth system in the country in Dallas, while Cabrera has done work with the U-17 and U-18 American teams.
To get a kid into MLS, I would rather have someone who knows the league inside and out giving him the guidance though his first few years as a professional than a college coach, especially if that college coach is no longer Caleb Porter. It would still be a year for growth, with Pareja and Cabrera well aware of the kid's need for growth; Serna's presence on the Rapids would not necessarily mean 1200 minutes on the pitch. Quite frankly, I think he'd be lucky to hit 120. With plenty of midfielders including, and especially, Martin Rivero ahead of him on the depth chart he would likely be reserved -- oops, two puns in one post -- for only the most dire of injury situations. On a team like Colorado, trying to move beyond the MLS cliches of size and power and into the unknown dimensions of technique and finesse, he'll grow into the role better than he would if he were a prospect of the Crew or Chivas.
As for the worries that MLS would chew him up and spit him out, that is simply a risk that someone of his diminutive size will always run. That's regardless of whether he has time off an MLS pitch to continue growing or not, which would probably be the case no matter if he stays or if he goes. If he turns into the attacking midfield version of Richie Williams, great. If he instead turns into the short version of Charles Renken, it's doubtful that another season at Akron would have been the mitigating factor to prevent it.
If any Akron fans are reading this, I assure you that going from Akron to the Rapids would certainly be no worse than a lateral move for the kid, and at best should work out even better.