By Paul Kennedy
The first major event of the year for Major League Soccer is its annual draft. MLS has been holding college
drafts since its first season -- the inaugural draft 20 years ago produced future Hall of Famer Eddie Pope
and three current MLS head coaches, Jeff Cassar
, Jesse Marsch
-- but it has been calling it the SuperDraft since 2000.
Ten of the 23 players on the 2014 U.S. World Cup team entered the pro ranks via the SuperDraft, while an 11th
player, Chris Wondolowski
, was taken in the 2005 Supplemental Draft, the 89th player taken overall. Seven of the 12 players Soccer America ranked No. 1 in its 2015 MLS positional rankings
entered the league via the SuperDraft, so it's a
roster-building mechanism MLS clubs can't ignore.
How it is "super," differentiating itself from any other kind of draft, has never been entirely clear, but the MLS SuperDraft has evolved
into a major p.r. event for the league as it has partnered with the NSCAA and held the draft in connection with the coaches convention.
The SuperDraft isn't on the scale of the NFL or NBA
drafts, but MLS has managed to make its draft a supporters' event -- the 2010 SuperDraft in Philadelphia was a coming-out party for the expansion Union and its Sons of Ben fan group -- and attracted
considerable press coverage.
Both SBI Soccer
and Top Drawer Soccer
have published their first mock drafts for 2016 and what is startling is
that both lists are almost entirely dominated by foreign players.
SBI's top 11 consists of seven foreigners, plus three Americans (North Carolina's Jonathan Campbell
and Stanford's Brandon Vincent
, all defenders) and one Canadian (Akron midfielder Richie Laryea
The projected top three picks -- assuming
they sign with MLS -- are all products of U.S. boarding schools: Georgetown's Joshua Yaro
and UCLA's Abu Danladi
, both Ghanaians from the Right to Dream program, and Wake Forest's
, an Englishman.
College soccer isn't necessarily attracting significantly better foreign players than before nor are they significantly better than other American
talent, but the pipeline of American talent available via the SuperDraft has dried up. More and more top young players are leaving college early or not playing college soccer at all.
high school class of 2012 -- now the college class of 2016 -- included such players as Shane O'Neill
, Marc Pelosi
, Alfred Koroma
, Alejandro Guido
, Raul Mendiola
, who went the pro route out of high school.
Of the top 10 players on TDS's list of the best freshmen after the 2012 season
, none will be available in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. Eight turned
pro before this year -- they include players in MLS and the USL and in Sweden -- and the other two -- Georgetown's Brandon Allen
and Northwestern's Joey Calistri
-- just signed Homegrown
contracts with the New York Red Bulls and Chicago, respectively.
Most of the best young players MLS clubs are signing are entering the league via the HG route. That includes players like
Allen and Calistri, who both played four years of college soccer, and others who never attended college. The biggest names in the latter group are FC Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez
and Red Bulls
defender Matt Miazga
, who are both only 20 but expected to be called into the U.S. national team's January camp.
While MLS academy programs don't account for every top player
coming through the U.S. youth system, it only makes sense that MLS clubs will stock up on HG players as they invest more money in their academies and MLS makes it more attractive to sign them,
offering new financial incentives.
Some will argue that MLS should simply cut all ties with college soccer. But the decline in the player pool of American college talent available the
SuperDraft represents a dilemma for MLS. At a minimum, how does it continue to promote an event like the SuperDraft -- make it seem "super" -- when it has lesser significance?
does it say about other Development Academy programs -- or programs outside the USSDA system -- that they don't develop more pro-worthy talent not tied up by HG rights claims? And what does it say
about a system in which many of the best young players like Pelosi, Guido and Rodriguez from the high school class of 2012 head straight to foreign clubs?
This year's Generation adidas
class -- the top college underclassmen enticed to turn pro -- might include one American, Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarpell
, who happens to hail from a state, Louisiana, without an MLS team.
No one would argue that college soccer is the best path for a player to become a pro soccer star, but that didn't prevent the likes of Clint Dempsey
or Geoff Cameron
or Kei Kamara
from turning out OK. College soccer for all its faults isn't going anywhere.
As MLS expands, adding four teams at least over the next four seasons, they
will need to find new, young American talent any way they can find it. Whether you like it or not, MLS will need the SuperDraft more than ever.