The MLS SuperDraft has made some positive changes, but questions remain on the relevancy
Throughout the years, numerous fans and the media alike criticized the MLS SuperDraft. Like other American sports leagues, the draft gives college players a chance to make it in Major League Soccer, and aim for a professional career. However, MLS is a rarity when it comes to the world of soccer by having a draft.
In the past decade, the SuperDraft’s importance for building a team has clearly diminished. Many teams tend to forgo picks in the fourth and final round. Plus, the majority of draft picks often do not make MLS rosters, and end up playing in the second or third tier, or not at all. Those who do make rosters find regular playing time to be scarce. For example, in the 2019 draft class, only 28 of the 76 players selected made an MLS roster for 2019, and only three played in 20 or more games that season.
Although, there are sometimes solid findings in the draft, and that has been seen in the last few years. In 2016, Jack Harrison was taken first overall and is now playing in the Premier League for Leeds United. 2016 also saw Keegan Rosenberry drafted, and he is now shining for the Colorado Rapids.
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In 2017, the likes of Jackson Yueill, Jonathan Lewis, and Julian Gressel were first-round draft picks. Then, in 2019, Minnesota United FC drafted major players Dayne St. Clair, Chase Gasper, and Hassani Dotson. And of course, Orlando City SC struck gold in 2018 with the draft of Chris Mueller, and then again in 2020 with Daryl Dike.
Therefore, there is still some value regarding the draft. Yes, few college players find success in MLS today, and it is extremely rare for a third or fourth rounder to make an MLS roster. That is why the announcement of the MLS SuperDraft changing to three rounds in 2021 is the right step forward. If MLS wants to keep the draft, then eventually it should be reduced to just two rounds.
Since there are some solid college players that can be drafted each year, then the idea of having the draft in the coming years makes sense. Despite the fact it is losing relevancy, it is not completely irrelevant. However, MLS must change the draft rules. Currently, only a few players who are not seniors can be drafted through Generation Adidas. Of course, some college players can play professionally by signing Homegrown contracts, but not every player has that opportunity.
So, in the case MLS keeps the draft, they should abolish the Generation Adidas program, and instead, like the NBA draft, allow freshman, sophomores, and juniors to be drafted as well. That way, younger players get the opportunity to move professionally earlier on, and better their development. Also, like the MLB draft, players who are drafted late, or not at all, should be allowed to retain their NCAA eligibility.
The draft is not necessarily needed
On the other hand, it would not hurt to eliminate the draft completely. Instead of drafting college players, MLS teams should be given the opportunity to sign players after the NCAA collegiate season. Furthermore, they can continue to have some form of a showcase every year. That way, teams can look at college players from every year, and give individuals an opportunity to sign a contract.
Additionally, another positive change seen in 2020 and 2021 is conducting the draft remotely. This saves the league money, but not having the draft at all would save money even further. Already severely hampered due to the pandemic, MLS needs to find ways to save money, and yet pay employees, players, and staff. Likely, the losses from the pandemic will impact the league for many years. Hence, MLS should investigate the possibility of eliminating the draft.
If MLS would forgo a draft, and instead sign players out of college directly, then the likes of Julian Gressel and Dayne St. Clair would still get the opportunity to make an MLS roster. The Jack Harrisons would still get the chance to go to Europe. And maybe, because only a few underclassmen can be drafted every year, there will be those players signed in their freshman year that develop within MLS and become stars by the time they would have graduated college. As good as some college teams are with developing, there are players that might miss out on development because they are not eligible to be drafted until their senior year, and then miss out on MLS entirely.
In the end, this is the United States, so it would not be surprising for MLS to keep the SuperDraft. Nevertheless, changes should be made, as discussed above. But abolishing the draft, and instead signing players straight out of college, is probably the best way to go. This will encourage talented players that attending college is a path one can take to make it in Major League Soccer.