By Ridge Mahoney
This Thursday, Major League Soccer holds the first phase of its fourth annual Re-Entry Draft, and there’s great uncertainty regarding how much player movement the two-stage process will generate.
There are many prominent names on the list of 69 eligible players released by MLS on Monday: Kevin Alston, Bobby Boswell, Marc Burch, Calen Carr, Bobby Convey, Kenny Cooper, Fabian Espindola, David Ferreira, Sean Franklin, Ugo Ihemelu, Joel Lindpere, Pablo Mastroeni, Mauro Rosales, Chris Rolfe and Steve Zakuani. However, it’s possible none of them will change teams through the Re-Entry Draft; they can decline to participate or go through the process and not be selected.
Not every player who is out of contract or has his option declined is eligible for the Re-Entry Draft. The benchmarks for age and years of MLS service that classify eligible players are listed below.
Here are the classifications of players eligible for the Re-Entry Draft:
-- Players aged 23 years or older and with at least three years’ MLS experience whose options were not exercised by their clubs. They are available at the salary stipulated in the option for the 2014 season.
-- Players aged 25 years or older and with at least four years’ MLS experience who are out of contract and have not been offered a contract of the same value as the last year of their expired deal. They are available at their 2013 salary.
-- Players aged 30 years or older with at least eight years’ MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club has declined to re-sign them. They must be offered at least 105 percent of their 2013 salary.
Players who are out of contract or whose options have been declined and lack the age and MLS service requirements for the Re-Entry Draft are available in the Waiver Draft.
Seattle has declined the option on goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who came to the league last year. He doesn’t meet the Re-Entry Draft criteria but can find a club outside MLS or negotiate a new contract with the Sounders. He was one of the league’s highest-paid keepers in 2013 with a base salary of $210,000.
Players eligible for the Re-Entry Draft who wish to negotiate with their current teams can continue to do so except during a blackout period that starts this Wednesday and runs through Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft to be conducted Thursday. Stage 2 is next Wednesday.
Teams will select players in reverse order of their 2013 finish. D.C. United will pick first, followed by Chivas USA, and so on until champion Sporting Kansas City closes out the first round. If a team passes in any round, its participation in the Re-Entry Draft is over.
To a player selected in Stage 1, teams must exercise the option at the terms specified, or if a player is out of contract, must offer him a contract worth at least 105 percent of his 2013 salary. Players out of contract can reject the Bona Fide Offer but the drafting team holds right of first refusal for that player in MLS. Therein lies a catch; a player cannot test the waters and pull out of the process if a team he doesn’t like picks him.
Not many players have been picked in Stage 1 in the past three Re-Entry Drafts. Only two were picked in 2010, three in 2011, and one – Maicon Santos -- last year. (Santos is back in the draft this year after the Fire declined his option.)
There’s much more activity in Stage 2, in which teams are not bound to financial thresholds as they are in Stage 1 and retain right of first refusal to the player even if the two sides cannot come to terms.
Players can accept an offer on the table as a condition of being traded. Such “sign- and-trade” deals are fairly common in a league like the NBA and are now part of MLS. They are permitted between Stages 1 and 2.
A year ago, the Red Bulls re-signed Sebastian LeToux and promptly traded him to Philadelphia, which had been his second MLS team after playing for Seattle in its inaugural MLS season in 2009. When the Crew declinedFrankie Hejduk’s option for 2011, he went through the Re-Entry Draft, was claimed by Sporting Kansas City in Stage 2, and agreed to a contract and a trade to the Galaxy.
The rules do permit a player to go through Stage 1 and then withdraw if not selected. Jovan Kirovskidid just that in 2010 and eventually re-signed with the Galaxy. Eight players had withdrawn from Stage 1 prior to that initial Re-Entry Draft.
Players not taken in Stage 1 can sign contracts with the league to be available in Stage 2, or negotiate with their current teams, or wait. If a player goes through Stage 1 and Stage 2 without being selected, teams can bid for him on a first-come, first-served basis.