Let's abandon the MLS draft

January, 14, 2011

Thoughts on the MLS Draft? I hate the draft. I want the draft abandoned.

Not just in MLS, but in all sports. I think it's an idea that's come and gone. If I were the sports czar, it would be a free market for all athletes in all sports.

The obvious argument against eliminating the draft is that only the teams with the most money would get the good players. But I don't see it quite that way. I think if teams were allowed to recruit and sign amateur players, it would put a greater emphasis on scouting. I think we would see a lot less consensus opinions -- a.k.a. "shared notes" -- on players. We'd see a lot more hometown heroes than we see now, because I think it would be worth a lot of money to a lot of young players to be able to play for their hometown team.

In MLS, we see a bit of this with the youth academies. But I wonder if, down the road, the league that had always deemed it necessary to use an American sports model would ever consider abandoning the draft? It could work.

Of course, this would require coordination between clubs and the league office. I'd propose that the players who are now draft-eligible would sign an MLS contract, but the dollar figure would not be set. So if the Red Bulls, for example, have a player they really want because they think he's either a guy who can help them right now, or that he's a player who will be ready to replace an aging starter in two years, they can come up with the amount of money they want to pay that player, so long as they fit him under the cap. It's a pipe dream, I know, but it's an idea (I have been telling my baseball colleagues for years) that I'd love to see seriously broken down and analyzed.

As for the MLS Draft, I've never been one to partake in the mock drafts, or the post-draft grades, because I've yet to find an expert. More than any other sport I cover, evaluations of soccer players are subjective. The best coaches and technical directors have a clear picture of what they want and need in a player, and how a player will fit into their team, and runs counter to what the observers see. Through the years in MLS, many of the best draft picks have not been players who impressed at the combine, or players who put up gaudy stats in college, but players who had that "something else" that no one noticed.

So I'll leave the "winners and losers" talk to the guys who have to fill the airwaves and the column space and, as I've done for 15 years now, wait and see how things play out.

And hope that some day the whole exercise will be abandoned.


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