Why MLS Academies Will Put An End To College Draft System

MLS Draft System

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The path to becoming a professional soccer player in the United States has always been … a little different, especially in comparison to the famed European models like England’s EPL, Spain’s La Liga or Italy’s Serie A. One of the main differences is the fact that soccer has not historically been as deeply embedded into American culture as sports such as football, basketball and baseball.

When soccer did eventually begin to gain popularity in the U.S., Americans were determined to put their own spin on it at the professional level, with one of the most obvious instances being the use of the word “soccer” in place of “football.” Because professional football, basketball and baseball all utilize draft systems where athletes are scouted and drafted either out of high school or college, the founders of MLS opted do the same.

The advantages of doing so are obvious, as it allowed Americans to make the foreign sport of soccer seem a little more familiar. To this day, MLS still utilizes a draft system where college players around the country can be picked up by MLS clubs and placed on their roster, or be used to make further trades for different players or allocation money.

However, with the rapid growth of soccer in the U.S., the MLS draft system is no longer the best way for aspiring athletes to become professionals.

A look at current U.S. internationals like Eddie Johnson, Brek Shea, Luis Gil, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley tells the story. These are arguably some of the best talent the U.S. has to offer, and none of them ever played college soccer.

Although the U.S. has always strove to differentiate itself from the rest of the world in sporting terms, it’s time for MLS clubs to continue investing in their academies and not rely as heavily on the draft system. Yes, the college draft system has produced quality players like USMNT legends Kasey Keller, Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey, but the current crop of U.S. internationals have been coming up through MLS academies.

Young players are now choosing to forgo college soccer and come up through the academy ranks for three main reasons. First, academies offer players the chance to work and train with professional coaches year round, whereas most college players only play for around six months out of the year.

The second reason is the gap in skill. Players in college who are serious about becoming professionals regularly go up against athletes who are committed, but who do not see themselves playing soccer for a paycheck. At academies, players are exposed to specialized training and a professional atmosphere, better preparing them for the real thing.

Lastly, academies allow players to become professionals at younger ages. In much of the world, it is not unusual for young players to make their first team debuts when they are 16 to 18-years-old. If a college player plays all four years and enters the draft, they won’t become professionals until they are 21 or 22.

One only has to look at the young talent that has been coming up through various MLS academy systems to understand. Players like the aforementioned Gil, Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez, Tristan Bowen, Andy Najar and Russell Teibert never stepped foot on a college field. That being said, college soccer does offer the chance for players to play at a high level and the chance at a good education, something that should not be ignored.

With the USMNT being drawn into the “Group of Death” for the 2014 World Cup against teams like Germany, Portugal and Ghana, many Americans feel that their team won’t make it out of the group stage. Because the U.S. has used the college draft system for so long, it may explain the gap in quality between the USMNT and established South American and European international teams, as well as up-and-coming African and Asian nations.

If the MLS and United States Soccer Federation are serious about creating a generation of players capable of competing with the world’s best, it may be time to do away with the draft system.

Giancarlo Santoro is a soccer writer for RantSports.com, “Like” him on Facebook, Follow him on Twitter, or add him to your network on Google.

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  • Matt

    1. The word soccer was coined in England (it’s short for association football) and the U.S. isn’t the only place in the world that uses the term. This map is helpful in that regard: http://knowmore.washingtonpost.com/2013/12/22/who-calls-it-football-and-who-calls-it-soccer-in-one-map/

    2. Plenty of players play at Academies before going on to play in college. Academies are for pre-college age players, after all.

    3. Most of the best college soccer players, in addition to the fall and tragically short spring exhibition season, also play in the Premier Development League in the summer.

    4. The academy system in MLS has a long way to go before the draft is no longer useful. MLS teams can only sign players who have played in their academy for at least a year, which leaves a large pool of players whose only other route to MLS is through a draft.

  • Giancarlo Santoro

    Matt,

    I agree that the US is not the only place in the world that does not call football soccer, and I wasn’t trying to make that claim, I was just highlighting a main difference that I have always found interesting.

    In terms of academy players playing for their respective clubs academies and then going to college, I also agree that this is very common. Players like DeAndre Yedlin for the Seattle Sounders FC spent two years playing college soccer and was then signed as a homegrown player, and the Sounders have just signed two more players to HGP contracts who also played college soccer for a year or two. The point I am trying to make is that if MLS teams focused more on their academy systems as teams do in Europe and South America, these players wouldn’t have had to play in college.

    Having played PDL myself during my college teams offseason, it is a good way to play year round, but it also means that you have to join a new team, with new players, a different coach and different tactics that are very different from the college team.

    MLS certainly does have a long way to go until the draft becomes obsolete, but it is the only way that US soccer can catch up with the rest of the world.