MLS SuperDraft is at a crossroads

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 and Greg Vanney -- 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 Jordan McCrary 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 Jack Harrison, 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.

The 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 and Mario Rodriguez, 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?

But what 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 Matt Besler 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.
10 comments about "MLS SuperDraft is at a crossroads".
  1. R2 Dad, January 5, 2016 at 12:26 a.m.

    Is the Superdraft open to non-MLS teams?

  2. Fingers Crossed, January 5, 2016 at 9:17 a.m.

    The SuperDraft will eventually lose its significance as the very best young players choose to enter MLS academies or go abroad instead of attending college. This is already happening which ultimately is a good thing for US soccer. That doesn't mean the college game won't produce a few players who can make it to MLS, and possibly the national team, but there will be fewer players that do. This will increase the importance of scouting for MLS clubs as they will really have to find diamonds in the rough at the college level. The college game is not the best avenue for developing professional players and it really shouldn't be. Let's remember that getting an education is the priority in college, not creating professional soccer players. The MLS academies and other academy clubs across the US should be doing that.

  3. Luis Duenas, January 5, 2016 at 11:05 a.m.

    It should be more like football draft,they really pay more attention to the good players in college.

  4. Joey Tremone, January 5, 2016 at 11:14 a.m.

    Re: "College soccer isn't necessarily attracting significantly better foreign players than before"


    I would bet that it probably is. This is about a full four-year cycle past the NCAA rule change allowing players who had played in foreign academies to be considered amateurs for NCAA purposes.

  5. Miguel Dedo, January 5, 2016 at 11:29 a.m.

    College is another chance for those who are not offered pro contracts out of high school, or who want to keep alive other career possibilities. More alternatives is a good situation. Most of the good players I knew as high preschoolers are now advancing professionals in other fields, non-professional players and great soccer fans.

  6. Raymond Weigand, January 5, 2016 at 1:10 p.m.

    "the pipeline of American talent available via the Super Draft has dried up" ... that's funny. Consider that most of the University Graduates of Engineering / Information Technology / Corporate Finance will be paid more than their super drafted MLS brethren - right out of school. This issue is more easily noticed with the professional women's leagues ... where the soccer professionals leave the league to make significantly more money as a professional in private industry.

  7. Ric Fonseca, January 5, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    As a former college coach and recently retired college professor, and having "honed" my coaching skills from the managerial side to the competitive side, both at the community/junior college and four-year levels, I agree with most of the article and so having said that I've "seen and done that" only and unless the NCAA lets go of its extremely restrictive rules and regulations, I am sad to say that college will not be a route to the pros, or will provide the necessary p.r. "fodder" for the MLS/NSCAA dog and pony show. And so as Miguel Dedo points out above, going to college, and yes, I agree that many will use the opportunity to get a "student-athletic scholarship" to help defray one's costs, going to college is and should be to become professionals in whatever field they choose. Sadly, one can very well read the sport section and the numbers of football players dropping out and opting not to complete their fourth year, or the "three and done" types, and we'll also see the very same thing taking place shortly after March Madness. So where do our soccer players in college fit in this scheme of things? Left out for wanting, and so why aren't there more US-born college players being marketed out there? One possible answer is due to the measly "guaranteed" salary MLS pays, and another is the fact that MLS is or seems NOT to give a diddly-eff about these guys. So why should they even bother with this circus/dog-and-pony show? In sum, I feel that both Miguel D and Raymond Weigand's comments are very spot on, though I feel that this "super draft" thing will eventually go the way of the western stage-coaches.

  8. beautiful game, January 5, 2016 at 5:37 p.m.

    I watched the NCAA semi and final, and one player had solid potential. Super-draft sounds more like Supermarket.

  9. Byron Clarke, January 5, 2016 at 7:38 p.m.

    OK who really cares about the super draft? What did catch my eye was the the sentence: But what 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?

    First, there are many players in the DA system that are recruited from non-DA clubs and areas that the DA ignores. Yet there is no inclusion or feeder programs from non-metro areas (where the DAs are located). All take and giving nothing back.

    When MLS settles its suite with several DAs over funding from transfer fees due to the clubs that develop players at a younger age, I wonder if these smaller clubs will have to sue the DAs to get their fare share?

    If the US wants development then the MLS and pro clubs need to have a mandate to cover and actually work with outlying clubs. MLS clubs charging clubs/parents a $25 per player fee to market their brand with no benefits or interest in the players is a big scam.

    I just wish that someone from US Soccer would write an open business plan to 2026 that ended with one system top to bottom that developed and prioritized US players in an effort to win the world cup. The very top to the very bottom. Put pen to paper the best system and then create that system.

    (I think that our politicians need to do the same thing ... have a vision, put it to paper, and lead.)

  10. Ric Fonseca replied, January 7, 2016 at 11:48 p.m.

    Byron, I like your idea, unfortunately I don't think that no one else outside those of us that read SA and bother to comment, actually read the comments and so, it is also eveident and seems to me that we're more than just pissing into the wind (jeez, I hope not) There has been u]one helluva lot of good suggestions pur forth in these comments that boggles the mind, and so to even suggest something innovative that can and would work, is a far fetched idea for those head honchos to even contemplate. But betcha they'd form a "study committee", meet to discuss whatever to design the next thoroughbred racing horse only to finish desigining a camel.

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