As we get closer and closer to the annual MLS SuperDraft, it bamboozles me that every year it still survives. As a product that rose from the ashes of two defunct drafts, the draft survives as a way for teams to reload for the future -- like almost all other North American sport, it is a way for college stars to become professional heroes...or so that's the case, anyway.
I know I am not the first writer to spill ink calling for the abolition of the Superdraft, nor will I be the last. And I will be the first to admit that Toronto FC hasn't exactly had the best draft record. But with the growth of our own academy and the fruit that is soon to ripen from that tree, isn't it time we stopped the charade?
While the draft may be an integral part of other pro sports in North America, soccer is a different animal in how it grows its talent -- European leagues have not needed drafts, and it's time that MLS followed suit.
Most people who follow American sports know that the draft is a way for a pro sports team to rebuild after one or several losing seasons -- drawing from the ranks of college athletes, fresh out of university (or sometimes just halfway through). College football has fed into the NFL, while college basketball feeds into the NBA. In Europe -- where MLS seems to be drawing most of its top talent -- college and university sport does not have the same sway, as they are more focused on academia, rather than making sport into a cash cow.
In this rush to create said cash cow in the U.S. college system, where does that leave the quality of the game? For one -- NCAA matches do not follow standard FIFA rules, one of which is the golden goal rule (which was abandoned in the international game in 2004). Other rules include unlimited substitutions, and clock-stoppages -- all of which are not employed in the international game, and probably will not be implemented in the near future.
That alone begs the question -- if the NCAA is supposedly the way that players are being brought up for future MLS and international glory, then why isn't the college game played the way the rest of the world plays it? While most players have adapted once they enter MLS, you cannot say that it does not affect the development of the players' "footballing brain". And yet, we are looking for those coming out of such a flawed system to be the future heroes of MLS?
This gap in talent is most likely why most of the players that MLS teams and supporters most look forward to, do not hail from North America -- just take a look at the list of Designated Players, and even the lone American on the list currently did not hone his skills at a college, but at the IMG Academy in Florida -- and look how he turned out. When was the last time you heard someone who had left the U.S. college ranks, and had made a big name for themselves? (Clint Dempsey does not count...)
There is a huge debate that is going on right now in U.S. soccer, and there is recognition that the status quo does not work, and that MLS teams, in following the examples of the rest of the world by developing their own academy systems, is the way to go. One doesn't have to go far to see some of the success stories: Juan Agudelo, Andy Najar (whose rise was documented by this wonderful ESPN piece) and Ashtone Morgan are a few of the names that are slowly making their way to the top.
The likes of Agudelo, Najar and Morgan are products of proper scouting, and careful development which has resulted in them playing first team football with the senior teams, while winning plaudits from their peers and attention from other parts of the world. It's a slow process, but these successes aren't being ignored -- almost every MLS squad has an academy of their own, and the return of the Reserve League this past season is perhaps the best example of MLS teams' push to raise their own players, rather than rely on the U.S. college system and the SuperDraft.
Sure, drafts work for most other sports -- but those sports do not have an international outlook like footy does. And until we fully realize that in order for the U.S.A. and eventually, hopefully, Canada to someday be competitive at events like the World Cup, and to take our places amongst the pantheon of footballing nations, we cannot afford to rely any further on a North American sporting anachronism. It wouldn't hurt if the NCAA were to pick up their game, too...
The college game will stay, but it's time that MLS stopped making it so easy for mediocre college talent to clog up MLS rosters, and let the true stars shine. Like the old saying goes, "give a football team a fish, they will compete for the day. But if you teach them how to fish, they can compete forever." -- and it's time MLS stopped giving out fish, and abolish the SuperDraft.
And for the love of all things sacred and holy, why is it "Super" anyway?!