Big League Time

Graduation day is supposed to be a big day. It is a chance for people to celebrate their success, to say goodbye to old friends, and get ready for the road ahead. For some graduation day takes the form of a cap and gown. For soccer players looking to join Major League Soccer it involves a suit and tie and hopefully a scarf. But that process seems to be changing. With the expansion of youth academies, the SuperDraft suddenly isn’t so super.

There was a time when the SuperDraft not only carried but was also essential. As opposed to most other footballing leagues across the world MLS has for the better part of two decades used a North American model for developing talent. High schools, private clubs, and colleges handled the development of younger players and those that could pass the muster were allocated to teams via a weighted draft. At the time, the system made sense even if it flew in the face of footballing norms. Soccer wasn’t a sport that players could make a living off of and teams couldn’t cover the costs of developing their own youth academy’s.

But things have gradually changed both in Canada and in the United States. Beginning in the late 2000’s MLS sides slowly began to develop their youth academy systems where clubs could monitor and train players using their own expertise. The league in turn invented what was called the Homegrown Player rule which gave clubs more flexibility with adding on players from their academy. A player could either go straight from the academy to the senior team or could attend college and then be signed by his academy club after his college career was up.

Adding players via Homegrown contracts has shrunk the college talent pool immensely. There are currently over 107 players in MLS on Homegrown contracts with at least 30 more who have re-signed with the league on a higher pay scale. By removing those players from the draft teams have less incentive to risk spending money on a college product that they aren’t familiar with.

There is also a very negative perception of the college game here in the United States. The college season only runs from August to December with very different rules than what FIFA works with. Unlimited substitutions and a clock that runs backwards changes the dynamics of the game and can make it at times more difficult to ascertain a player’s abilities.

The old argument of the importance of earning a college education as a fallback option is also fading. Major League Soccer’s partnership with South New Hampshire University provides players with the opportunity to earn a college education while developing their playing skills either at the MLS level or with an affiliate side at the USL level.

There has been a movement to make college soccer year-round and align its rules with FIFAs. However, those changes have been met with stiff resistance from the NCAA, the governing board of college athletics in the United States.

It is a very interesting time for soccer in Canada and the United States and what worked in the past will perhaps not necessarily work in the future. The youth academy system in MLS isn’t exactly at a point where it can be solely relied upon to provide talent to the senior rosters. Not every player will be picked up by an MLS youth academy side and there is certainly the possibility of a diamond in the rough developing late. Clint Dempsey, who earned his stripes at Furman University, is a prime example. But the days of the college system being the pre-eminent driver of young talent in the MLS seem to be coming to an end. Whether the SuperDraft as it is can continue is very much up for debate.

Number One

One of the prevailing thoughts in North American sports is that by getting the number one overall pick that teams will get a once-in-a-lifetime player. While that may be true in other sports in MLS it is anything but. While clubs have throughout the history of the Draft found solid players, the superstar has for the most part been lacking.

Draft Year Player (Team/College) Games Played/Starts Silverware and National Team Appearances
1996 Matt McKeon (Kansas City Wiz/St. Louis University) 172/153 Two caps with USMNT
1997 Tahj Jakins (Colorado Rapids/UCLA) 73/43  
1998 Leo Cullen (Miami Fusion/Maryland) 166/143 Three caps with USMNT
1999 Jason Moore (D.C. United/ Virginia) 92/61  
2000 Steve Shak (Miami Fusion/UCLA) 38/22  
2001 Chris Carrieri (San Jose Earthquakes/UNC) 75/56  
2002 Chris Gbandi (FC Dallas/University of Connecticut) 111/100  
2003 Alecko Eskandarian (DC United/Virginia) 125/83 2005 MLS Cup ; 2005 MLS Cup MVP;
2004 Freddy Adu (D.C. United)* 133/95 17 caps with USMNT
2005 Nikolas Besagno (Real Salt Lake)* 8/4  
2006 Marvell Wynne (New York Red Bulls/UCLA) 301/290 2009 Canadian Championship; 2010 MLS Cup ; 5 USMNT appearances
2007 Maurice Edu (Toronto FC/Maryland) 91/90 54 appearances for USMNT; Played at the 2010 World Cup; Played in UEFA Champions League with Rangers; 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year
2008 Chance Myers (Kansas City Wizards/UCLA) 148/115 2013 MLS Cup Champion; 2012 US Open Cup
2009 Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders/Akron) 97/76 2009 and 2010 US Open Cup; One DR Congo appearance
2010 Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia Union/Oregon State) 102/50  
2011 Omar Salgado (Vancouver Whitecaps)** 29/12  
2012 Andrew Wenger (Montreal Impact/Duke) 181/115 2013 Canadian Championship, 2018 US Open Cup
2013 Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution/Louisville) 190/188  
2014 Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union/Connecticut) 98/98 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and MLS Best XI; 22 Appearances for Jamaican MNT; 2015 AND 2017 Gold Cup Runners-up
2015 Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC/Connecticut) 87/77 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year; 27 appearances for CANMNT
2016 Jack Harrison (Chicago/Wake Forest) 55/50 England under-20; Sold to Manchester City
2017 Abu Danladi (Minnesota United FC/UCLA) 43/20  
2018 Joao Moutinho (LAFC/Akron) 14/10  


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