The 2013 MLS Superdraft occurred yesterday in Indianapolis IN, leaving fans with players to follow and rumors as to what comes next for their teams.
But that wasn’t all that the draft brought. January 17, 2013 marks the junction of monumental changes in the history of the league.
2012 was a year of firsts. Most MLS teams saw massive profits and increases in fan support in terms of ticket sales, tv coverage, and merchandising. The LA Galaxy won another title but lost David Beckham and Landon Donovan while proving the policy of designating up to three high profile stars to each team really makes a difference in performance considering each team’s limit of only twenty roster spots.
See: http://www.mlssoccer.com/2012-mls-roster-rules For a full list of MLS guidelines set for all teams.
However all of those major accomplishments are nothing compared to the change in the way the MLS draws in talent for competition. Only a few years back we were wowed with news that all MLS teams were to begin Soccer Academies and farm systems to sign talent to development deals much like what the Premiereship uses in the UK.
There were a lot of detractors around the US sports world. People felt it was a dangerous way to develop the league of a professional sport nowhere near the top in rankings in their own country. The reality is that it has worked. It was hard not to notice how many times Alexi Lalas, Tyler Twellman, or any number of team staff broke from commentary on the draft picks to name countless players who would have otherwise been picked in the first round for any given team but were instead being signed outside the draft because they had already signed development deals with their team as youths.
The basic structure of the MLS recruiting system has changed so much from all other major US sports that calling it jaw dropping is beyond understatement.
Moving forward homegrown talent is the way of the MLS. Coming from all over the world, ushered into our US school system as early as Ninth grade to build their skills. Players attend training camps run by the clubs, shaping them around the playing styles of the team, and growing the talent pool of the MLS tenfold. Then there is the cost. For very little overhead, teams have installed a bridge into cheaply developing talent. Players are free to graduate high school, at which point, if they are ready, they can join the team. If not, they can take scholarships and head to college to play for a few years. Regardless of the track they follow, they eventually join their team in the MLS. Sound familiar. To name only one recent success of such a system, Manchester United found Wayne Rooney in the Everton development system. He became a homegrown superstar overnight after it was clear he had a nose for scoring and a style designed for clashing with defenders. Everton cashed in on Rooney’s talent while they could, instead of taking on further risk. Something MLS teams will be free to do as well. In the history of the MLS it has never been easier to find parody with the Premiere league which is critically important for building the league’s international status. On a related note Commissioner Don Garber announced plans to move the MLS into the top of the sport declaring “Our vision is to be one of the top soccer leagues by 2022.” He followed up by stating “We want to make the MLS the league of choice for fans……” A lofty goal to say the least but not unattainable. If Americans want something bad enough, we tend to find a way of getting things done, much of the same can be said of MLS soccer fans.
See http://www.officialwaynerooney.com/ for more.
The MLS Superdraft was many things but it wasn’t boring. For the first time the MLS’s first draft pick of the day was televised nationally on Sportscenter live. Then the rest of the draft was aired worldwide streaming in so many locations and avenues it would be ridiculous to try to list them all. This is a milestone achievement for a league that only recently began seeing live coverage on cable channels in the US.
The New England Revolution provided the first surprise of the 2013MLS SuperDraft by making a trade with Toronto FC on Wednesday to acquire the top pick. They chose Andrew Farrel a tough defender that they really needed.
The last pick of the second round, the final pick of the regular draft went to the LA Galaxy who chose Greg Cochrane another defender. They needed a balanced player with some speed to keep up with the MLS’s growing field of attackers with quicks. It isn’t really a clear choice for need. But he has some upside that makes him a worthy last pick of the day. Who knows, maybe in a few years we will all be talking about Cochrane as the shutdown defender they really needed?
This year’s draft also began with a completely different structure than any other sports draft. If you are used to watching the NFL draft, you would be shocked at the way the MLS designed their system.
Team’s each receive a five minute timeout that they can call if their window of five minutes to make their pick isn’t enough. But they can only use it once in the two rounds of the night. So it added a huge amount of humor, turmoil, stress, and entertainment to the show. When pick 29 fell it took nearly half an hour to get done with what should have taken less than five minutes because teams kept taking their timeouts hoping to make trade deals. It was an odd experience watching the commentators turn to watch the clock wind down only to hear an announcement for another timeout. If this sounds like a recipe for boring your socks off you couldn’t be more wrong. This was by far the best draft in years. The talent pool was pretty solid, there was easily a dozen of shocking picks, trades, and great interviews with useful insights and comparisons.
The best part of hearing this is the exhilaration of knowing how much better our talent pool is becoming. Our US national team is becoming a very different beast, but it is beastly none the less. With our new skipper, the Mastermind Jurgen Kilinsmann, we’ve never looked better.
See http://www.ussoccer.com/ for official news and information from US Soccer.
If you’re a major MLS fan, you will already know about all of this, if you aren’t, maybe you should be.
The MLS is now the longest running North American Soccer League surpassing the North American Soccer League or NASL. In fact the MLS reached another milestone. There have been sixteen new stadiums for teams in only seventeen years. In this eighteenth draft year there really is only one thing to consider as cause for concern. During the entire draft fans booed at every possible moment. Doing their best impression of obnoxious NFL fans in New York’s football draft, they were scorned several times by everyone including commissioner Don Garber, who begged the fans to show respect even if a player was picked by a team that wasn’t their favorite.
Unfortunately the fans refused to listen to reason. They booed like spoiled children not getting what they demanded. It was an unseemly mess. If you wanted a good drinking game, watch the draft and take a drink every time the fans boo. You’ll surely find it frequent enough to attain alcohol poisoning.
One can only hope that in the future, MLS fans will grow up and act like fans of an international sport like Futbol instead of a cheap impersonation of NFL fans boo happiness at their draft. (And I’m a huge NFL fan!)
The second half of the 2013 draft, the Supplementary Draft, begins January 22nd, this time in New York City.