MLS SuperDraft: Grey-Haired, But Oil in the Tank
To me, the MLS SuperDraft is like a slightly older than middle-age person. It's still very much an active thing, but it has has to think about how its children will survive once its gone.
That analogy may be morbid, or a stretch, but the truth is the status of the SuperDraft can be summed up in one word: awkward.
Teams rely on the draft every year to make moves and bolster their rosters, but many of the forward-thinking clubs know that the player-acquisition landscape will look much different in a decade or so. Instead of utilizing the draft to find talent, MLS clubs are starting to develop their own talent via academies.
For many MLS talking heads (ourselves included), the reluctance to accept the academy model as a viable talent producing tool has been frustrating, even if expected. It seems like change in MLS when it comes to player development takes place at a snail's pace, with clubs across the league having relied on the draft to find talent for years.
Yes, the advent of the DP-era has certainly changed things, as has the influx of foreign talent in general. However, the SuperDraft is still an incredible team-building tool that many in the U.S. soccer community readily write off.
In a video for Yahoo, Jason Saghini countered the often cited argument that the MLS SuperDraft is an outdated, useless channel for structuring a franchise. He brought up the case of Sporting Kansas City, the reigning MLS Cup Champions, to prove his point. In 2008, the club took Chance Myers first overall, with first-rounder Matt Besler and second-rounder Graham Zusi following in 2009. Then in 2012, C.J. Sapong joined the club's ranks, with Dom Dwyer following the next year.
Each of those picks got the starting nod against Real Salt Lake in the 2013 MLS Cup Final. The fact that the club's 2010 top round selection, Teal Bunbury was on the bench for that match shows that clubs can use the draft to their advantage.
Another great point Saghini made was that both Benny Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura, two central cogs in the title-winning Sporting side, were acquired through trades involving draft picks.
This may be the exception more than the rule, and Peter Vermes certainly has proven to be more draft savvy than most MLS managers. He is to the MLS SuperDraft what Bill Belichick is to the NFL Draft.
Speaking of New England, the Revolution are another great example of how a few smart drafts can get a franchise back on track. Three years ago, the Revs were a boring hapless team. But since 2011, the club has added the likes of A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Kelyn Rowe and Andrew Farrell. Although they are hardly household names yet, they have provided a solid foundation for Jay Heaps to build from.
The fact that the club has three first-round picks to work with this year has only increased the optimism among the Revs faithful. With the right moves, the club could very well push to better its third place finish in the East in 2013.
Even so, the days appear to be numbered for the draft. As the league starts to shift more to an academy-centric model, the need for a draft will dwindle. The one saving grace of the MLS SuperDraft is that the college game is firmly entrenched in the U.S. soccer structure. Love it, hate it, it's probably going to stick around for the foreseeable future.
Although the league has started to allow homegrown academy talent to attend college while having their rights retained by their club, colleges will remain the x-factor in how important or irrelevant the draft is to become.
However, Brian Straus of SportingNews summed up the direction the league should be headed when it comes to developing talent.
"Young players benefit most by training in a professional environment, not by playing four-month seasons on college campuses," Straus wrote.
It's a simple assessment, yet an accurate one that points to how young players should be cultivated in the modern world. While MLS is definitely moving in right direction when it comes to the academy, it will take time to fully implement such an infrastructure. Until then, the MLS SuperDraft will continue to be one of the most underrated channels for building a great club.
You can catch the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, January 16 at 12 p.m. EST on ESPNNEWS
Read about the player pool & MLS Combine at mlssoccer.com