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Time for Major League Soccer to Do Away with Drafts

Ahead of tomorrow's Superdraft, it is becoming clear on an annual basis that as the league continues to move forward drafts are becoming an outdated way for the league to distribute players.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Right down to the name of the league, Major League Soccer has always been distinctly American. For the most part, that is a good thing, and something that has helped the league establish itself in a convoluted North American sports and entertainment market.

Parity, for example, is largely a North American sports concept, and something that features less and less in global soccer (save for Leicester City, bless their hearts). In Major League Soccer, however, it has not only helped to keep the league afloat it has helped to keep the product fresh and the competition interesting.

Then there are the bits of Americana that the league holds on to despite the fact that they suit the game about as badly as a guy from Florida (we assume) yelling "GOOOOOL". That would be the draft, or in the case of Major League Soccer, the drafts. As the Superdraft approaches it has become clear that the league no longer needs draft days.

For starters, nobody even makes picks anymore. Between the three drafts that MLS uses to allocate its players, or two because the Re-entry draft is split up like the final instillment of some teen fantasy series, there were four players selected. In fact for the first time since the draft was created in 2010, a team passed on the first overall pick in the more favourable second round. The next five teams passed as well.

MLS clubs it seems, now have the resources to build to their teams without the need for recycled players under contracts of which other teams have often wisely rid themselves. An expanded free agency would make these drafts completely irrelevant, as would a greater focus on bringing academy players to the first team.

This brings up the more popular and traditional MLS draft, the Superdraft. While there isn't as much "passing" in the MLS draft, seeing as it would be scouting staff suicide, the quality of the league has in many ways has surpassed the talent that NCAA can produce. In fact in 2014 the LA Galaxy famously did "pass" on their final pick in the draft.

Outside of the top few picks in the draft, it is incredibly rare that a player becomes a top MLS talent. Research compiled by Duane Rollins of Canadian Soccer News shows that even in the first round, the Superdraft is a coin-toss as to whether the player will end up developing or not.

This is certainly something that would resonate with those around Toronto FC: for every Maurice Edu that Toronto FC has selected there has been a Pat Phelan or Aaron Maund. This is just the first round, not to mention the three other rounds that then follow.

In this sense, the Superdraft has become outdated as academies become the league's future. The draft will likely need to stick around for a few more years as team's further grow their young programs, but longterm those same academies will make it outdated.

In many ways, doing away with the draft would also force clubs to invest more in their academy setups as they can no longer just wait for top NCAA schools to hand them talent. They would have to cultivate their own, which would mean forwarding player development in both Canada and the United States.

With the USL affiliates as well as other development league's throughout the United States and Canada, the academy system has never been in a better place. Teams like FC Dallas have already used it expertly to help build a team that promises to be strong for year's to come.

This doesn't mean cutting out the NCAA either, but rather using it as a development tool and another option for young players. Gyasi Zardes, for example, who was a product of the LA Galaxy system was sent to college in order to fully develop his game and it worked out excellently.

Even as a marketing tool, which it can be argued that all drafts have become with their degree of pageantry, the MLS draft is lacking. Fans do not know the incoming players as household names the way they do in other sports, and often the best NCAA players are already property of MLS Clubs.

It would certainly be more difficult to uphold parity in a draft-less system, at least optically, but team's really can't "build through the draft" in MLS like they can in other sport's leagues in North America. The salary cap and other league restrictions will continue to keep the league as fair a playing field as possible.

So as MLS goes through the draft again tomorrow, there ought to be some thought directed towards whether or not this is actually moving the league forward. At the end of the day, as much as the FIFA video games say otherwise, soccer is not a sport meant for drafts.