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 FC – 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.
[inline_node:326603]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.
Note: Toronto FC's youngest player is Doneil Henry, a homegrown Academy graduate who turned 18 on April 20.
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 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
[inline_node:333181]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
[inline_node:330578]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.