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The MLS PseudoDraft and other obstacles that Latino Americans face in American soccer
by Paul Gardner, January 13th, 2016 11:24PM
By Paul Gardner

Time for another MLS SuperDraft. It would be better called the MLS PseudoDraft. It might also be known as the Slim Pickings Draft. Most of those involved are college players, and the day has long since passed when a bumper crop, or even an ordinary crop, of pro-ready players might be expected from that source.

Over 80 players will be drafted, which will register yet another triumph of hope over reality. For a select few, maybe a dozen of these guys, a pro contract, and meaningful playing time looms. Quite likely, half that number will be foreign-born.

The No. 1 pick last year was the Canadian Cyle Larin, who started 24 games and scored 17 goals for Orlando. Larin played 1,905 minutes -- which, according to the MLS website, was more than the total playing time for all 21 players drafted in the second round -- they totaled only 1,527 minutes.

So, as a key stage in the development of American players the PseudoDraft leaves something to be desired. And if you happen to be a Hispanic-American player, it leaves everything to be desired.

A month back, MLS announced the names of 59 college players who would take part in this year’s draft, and who would participate in the pre-draft series of games known as the combine.

Of those 59 players, only four are Latinos. All four are foreign-born. College soccer, it appears, does not offer many opportunities for American-born Latinos.

This appalling situation will come as no surprise to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the status of Latino players in American soccer. Because it is not just the colleges that display a reluctance to engage with homegrown Latino talent. In doing so, the colleges are simply reflecting a much more widespread bias.

For a start one can point to the massive coaches convention during which the PseudoDraft will be staged. A quick rundown of the speakers and clinicians and coaches featured at the convention reveals experts of one sort or another from England, Scotland, Wales, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Spain, France, and Canada. But nobody from South America. And nobody from Mexico.

I really do not see how such a lop-sided schedule, totally ignoring the immensely influential Latino game, can be justified.

And here are some more percentages that are worth perusing. (When the following stats include rosters, the goalkeepers are not included).

• Number of Latino players on the 18-man US team that competed in the 2015 U-17 World Cup: 11 (61 percent).

• Number of Latino players on the 18-man U.S. team that competed in the 2015 U-20 World Cup: 6 (33 percent).

• Number of Latino players on the 16-man US Olympic roster: 3 (19 percent).

• Number of Latino players on the current U.S. men’s national team 22-player roster: 1 (4.5 percent).

I do not find any surprises here. That Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team should show the lowest percentage is logical, for the German has made it abundantly clear that he is not that interested in Latino players.

And how goes the coaching situation on the various USSF national teams?

• Number of Latino head coaches on the nine US national teams, from U-14 up to the men’s national team: 1 (11 percent).

A pattern is discernible. More than discernible -- it leaps out of these stats. The U-17 team is 61% Latino. The U-20s start the downward trend, at 33%. The Olympic U-23 team has 19%. Then we arrive at Klinsmann’s national team, where Latinos have virtually disappeared -- he shows 4.5 percent ... just one player.

How to account for that extraordinary drop off? What happens to the young Latinos from the U-17 team? Are they simply unable to develop? All of them? Does their almost total disappearance indicate something wrong with the Latino players, or something wrong with the system?

Since 1999, a key part of that system has been the residential program at Bradenton. The intake of players for 2015 included 7 Latinos among 25 field players -- 28 percent. Considering that this group has been carefully selected and supposedly represents the best young players in the country, that 28 percent should be a reliable guide: just over a quarter of the best young players in America are Latinos. Yet within a few years they disappear. The question recurs: is it the players, or the system?

There is also MLS to consider. A rather different situation, where neither the traditional non-Latino structure of college soccer, nor the personal persuasions of Klinsmann should be influential. Yes, a few American-born Latinos have made it. Maybe the most obviously successful have been the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez and Portland’s Jorge Villafana. Both of whom, as it happens, left their MLS teams at the end of last season, to play in Mexico.

In MLS I do not see the crude lack of interest in Latinos that the colleges and Klinsmann display. And there is a goodly sprinkling of skillful Latinos (almost all of them foreigners) on MLS teams. Nevertheless, I do think MLS clubs could do more to encourage such players. Within MLS, the coaching situation is slightly worse than it is among the Federation’s national teams. Allowing for two assistant coaches on each of the league’s 20 teams, there are 60 slots to be filled:

• Number of Latino head coaches and assistant coaches on MLS teams: 4 (7 percent).

I am not about to suggest that there exists a natural level, a set percentage figure, for Latino involvement in American soccer. Quotas are definitely not a good idea. But the percentages at the moment strike me as being unarguably lower than they should be.

In particular, the sharp drop off in Latino players from the youth to senior level, cries out for an explanation. Either the Latinos are quite hopeless at developing into pro players -- in which case U.S. Soccer is wasting its time bothering with them at all; or there is formidable resistance to their use on the national team -- resistance that can come only from Klinsmann.

However one views the various stats given above, there can be no escaping the conclusion that the development of Latino American players is being held back. While Latino talent is adequately represented at the younger age levels, the players run into problems as they move up the age ladder.

The rarity of Latino coaches, in the pro game, and on the various U.S. Soccer national teams, does not help -- just one Latino coach among the nine U.S. Soccer national teams, two Latino coaches among the 20 teams of MLS. At the senior and pro levels a detectable bias in favor of European, rather than Latin American, soccer prevails, finding its sharpest edge in the policies and decisions of the national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

A player development system that includes a strong input from antiquated attitudes and narrow-minded bias is a sick system. In the case of American soccer, tragically sick, because it creates a milieu that is reluctant to embrace the Latino side of the sport. And stupidly sick, because the Latin influence has so much to offer.