January 15, 2016
By Charles Cuttone
Time to scuttle the draft
BALTIMORE—The Major League Soccer SuperDraft has become irrelevant.
College soccer is no longer the path to MLS for most American players, who now come through the development academies and other programs run by the teams. Because of the Homegrown Player system in the league, even many of the best college players no longer go through the draft process, because they came up through the MLS’ academies.
Some of this year’s best college talent, including Brandon Allen and Alex Muyl of Georgetown, were already signed to Homegrown Player contracts by the New York Red Bulls. Both would have been high first round picks had they gone through the draft process.
The buzz around the draft is no longer there. Sure, the room was filled with fans at the start of the draft at the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday, but midway through the first round, the gallery was largely empty and quiet, except for the overly loud music MLS insists on blaring.
Juxtapose this with just a few years ago, when the Philadelphia Union entered the league and had the first pick in a draft that was being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City Philadelphia.
There was a palpable buzz around the convention, and indeed around the area. The Sons of Ben, the Union’s Supporter’s Club started the festivities rather early with a party at a bar under the convention center, then marched to the grand ballroom, letting everyone in the convention center know they were coming. They were met there by fans of the Red Bulls and DC United and a small smattering from other teams. Every selection was greeted with cheers or jeers.
That this year’s event was in a non-MLS city should not matter. In 2009 in St. Louis, fans from Chicago, Kansas City D.C., and even Toronto, were there waving their scarves and chanting like it was a midsummer home game, not a largely administrative event held in during a single digit cold snap.
For a while MLS Drafts were televised live. That is no longer the case. Even with their much-vaunted new television deal with ESPN and Fox, those broadcasters, who number seven cable channels between them, could not find a two hour block for the draft on a Thursday afternoon in the middle of the winter.
Clearly, because of the way Major League Soccer has evolved, the draft is no longer a necessity, and that’s probably a good thing.