The MLS SuperDraft ain’t what it once was as the introduction of Homegrown Player (HGP) signings at the beginning of this decade has slowly but surely — and much more quickly of late — diluted the talent pool to the point that teams can no long count on picking one or more regular contributors without the use of thorough scouting and a bit of luck.
Don’t get me wrong, the SuperDraft will remain for quite a long time as the annual exercise by which MLS allocates college-aged players who somehow slipped through the cracks of MLS academies, either due to failure to identify, or simply through lack of proximity to an MLS club.
Let’s take a look at how much the SuperDraft’s immediate impact has fallen off in the last four years.
2011 SuperDraftees to log 1,400 minutes their rookie season: (11 players) — Darlington Nagbe, Perry Kitchen, Zarek Valnetin, A.J. Soares, Jalil Anibaba, C.J. Sapong, Will Bruin, Jeb Brovsky, Michael Farfan, Stephen McCarthy, Joao Plata
2012 SuperDraftees to log 1,400 minutes their rookie season: (8 players) — Kelyn Rowe, Luis Silva, Nick DeLeon, Austin Berry, Matt Hedges, Tony Cascio, Ryan Meara, Raymon Gaddis,
2013 SuperDraftees to log 1,400 minutes their rookie season: (4 players) — Andrew Farrell, Carlos Alvarez, Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers
2014 SuperDraftees to log 1,400 minutes their rookie season: (5 players) — Steve Birnbaum, Eric Miller, Tesho Akindele, Nick Hagglund, Chris Duvall
Go ahead and have a guess at when MLS academies started to become prominent and retroactively snatch up as much of the quality college talent as they could get away with. Yes, the answer is, in large part, 2013. A handful of names who would have been available via the SuperDraft the last two years had they not been signed to Homegrown Player deals: Will Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Harrison Shipp, Tommy Thompson — four current and/or future MLS/USMNT stars.
The recipe for prolonged success in MLS is still: an above average core of cheap-ish American players supplemented by a couple of Designated Player attackers and coming up aces on a couple gambles to acquire max-salary guys. (See, for example: LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake and the pre-2014 Houston Dynamo)
The 2015 SuperDraft (Thursday, 12:30 pm ET — full coverage on PST) class possesses the smallest Generation adidas (GA) class — thought to be top-end talent having left college early (read: younger, more time to develop in a professional environment) — in the draft’s history.
[ MOCKING THE DRAFT: 2015 MLS SuperDraft first round ]
From 2003 to 2012, teams could select from a GA class of no less than eight, off-budget underclassmen, many of whom have gone on to have very successful careers in MLS and beyond. In 2013 and 2014, just three (Farrell, Brown and Miller) of 14 GA players selected have gone on to hit the above 1,400-minute milestone.
The days of “draft cheap, develop later” are gone, thanks to HGP signings. Teams are now forced to draft players and pay them from day one, often times occupying an on-budget, senior roster spot, which undoubtedly starts their clock ticking much earlier as a young pro than would have been the case five years ago. For that, finding success in the MLS SuperDraft is now tougher than ever before, for both the teams and the players.