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  • A MLS mockery draft


    The MLS SuperDraft sucks.

    There, I said it. Now, before you rush to the comments section to tell me how there are still players to be found in the draft, and teams can’t afford to overlook it, don’t bother. You’re right. There are and there is.

    Its importance is not up for debate (although it is overstated). The SuperDraft sucks because it exists, period. The continued pandering to the NCAA pathway of soccer development in North America is the biggest obstacle the sport faces in its growth here. The draft is a symptom of that pandering.


    Although we in Canada are less enamoured with college sports than American fans tend to be, we are not innocent in its promotion either. For years the goal of a NCAA scholarship has been held up as the Holy grail for every athletically gifted, fast kid chasing down hopeless long balls on your local u12 club.

    Still, the self-righteous Canuck soccer fan can feel OK about hanging this one mostly on our friends to the south. In the United States college sports is an obsession – it’s right there with Apple Pie, sex obsessed Republicans and SoCal boob jobs on the list of prototypical American things. The NCAA acts as the primary development pathway for the country’s two unofficial national sports – Basketball and football – and is seen as a legitimate option for the official sport, baseball, as well.

    It’s only when you get to the sports that are played more widely elsewhere – hockey and soccer – that there is a mix, but even then the NCAA is still relied on to do the heavy lifting on the development side of things.

    NCAA apologists will point to the success of the NBA and NFL in developing pro players as reason why soccer should stick with. And, there is little doubt that the top colleges do produce a great deal of pro football and basketball players. However, the difference is scale. The United States produces the vast majority of NBA players, period, and all but a tiny handful of NFL players. So, the development pathway works because it's the development pathway -- if you want to be a pro you have to go through it

    Actually, I’ll make the argument that the NCAA is actually an ineffective way to produce NBA and NFL players (i.e. there are other methods that would work much better). However, a lack of other options, combined with cultural pressure to go to college, is enough to overcome the structural shortcomings found within college sports.

    Basically, if you throw enough paint at a wall eventually you’ll make art. Or, to put it more bluntly, there are so many players in the system my cat could design the development pathway and it would still produce a crap-load of players.

    However, when you are talking about a sport like soccer where there are far less prospects to start with you need to make sure that the system is efficient. What’s efficient? Well, the way it’s done is the entire rest of the world would be as good a place to start looking for that answer as any.

    Local clubs develop local youth amateur players. The best of those players move on to regional clubs to play in a professional youth academy, usually affiliated with a professional club. The very best of those are purchased by big clubs to win them silver cups. The system works because there is financial incentive at every level to produce players. If a small club creates a star, they get paid for him. The world is a simple place really. It is motivated by money.

    And money, to bring it back to the NCAA, is why MLS holds onto a development system it knows is ineffective. A player drafted in the SuperDraft is a player MLS doesn’t have to pay a transfer fee for. It’s a great deal for the bean counters at MLS HQ, but a terrible deal for those that want to see the game get better in Canada and the US.

    Basically, if you don’t compensate youth clubs for developing players they aren’t going to be motivated to develop players. Instead, they’ll look to find revenue streams through player fees, and they are able to increase those fees and attract more players by pointing to the "accomplishments" of winning useless trophies and helping players get NCAA scholarships. It's a vicious cycle.

    The unspoken reason MLS teams are finally moving towards in-house academies is to prevent non-affiliated youth clubs from getting any ideas. MLS effectively pays transfer fees to itself now when it signs a homegrown (cap relief is spent on other players), but it offsets that increased cost through the Generation adidas agreement. It also is fine taking transfers from other leagues– they won’t pay transfer fees to local clubs that produce players, but they will damn well demand them from the first European club that wants to sign one of their academy prospects.

    It’s a pretty good gig.

    So, forgive me for not celebrating the draft. I’ll cover it and I understand why it needs to be paid attention to, but I will not, in any way, promote it as anything other than the anchor that it is on North American soccer.

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