The MLS Super Draft is Not so Super

MLS has a draft problem. A very not super problem.

In about two weeks the MLS draft for college players will take place in Philadelphia. MLS has named their college entry draft the “MLS Super Draft,” but it’s looking more and more likely that this years’ draft class will be anything but super.

For years, the best college prospects in the United States have been rewarded with Generation Adidas contracts earning them higher than normal rookie salaries which did not count against their team’s salary cap.

The MLS Super Draft is Not so Super

In the past few years, the number of homegrown players signing with MLS teams has increased, meaning some of the the top players coming out of college, like Harrison Shipp in 2014 and Gyasi Zardes in 2013, have bypassed the draft and signed with the team whose academy they played in.

Both the homegrown player contract and Generation Adidas have been methods for MLS teams to pick up young talent that may not be quite ready to make first team contributions, and do so without suffering a salary cap hit.

Suddenly though, it appears that an increasing number of players have decided that signing one of these contracts may not be their best option, with a growing number of this year’s top prospects turning down Generation Adidas or homegrown contracts to either stay in college or pursue other options.

In November, multiple MLS owners and front office personnel expressed frustration with Jurgen Klinsmann for advising young players to sign with European teams and bypass MLS. Now, according to reports, it seems that MLS is undermining clubs efforts to retain young talent by lowballing college prospects in contract negotiations.

As the MLS Super Draft approaches, the number of top prospects electing to either return to college or pursue options outside of MLS is growing. Stanford forward and Seattle Sounders academy player Jordan Morris, who last year became the first college player in two decades to earn a USMNT cap recently turned down a homegrown contract with the Sounders.

Joshua Yaro, who Orlando City has publicly coveted with the top pick in the draft turned down an MLS contract offer to return to Georgetown. University of Connecticut and Canadian national team forward Cyle Larin is projected to be picked in the top two, but he has yet to sign with MLS and is widely believed to have multiple offers in Europe, including interest from a Premier League team. Another top prospect, Washington midfielder Cristian Roldan has yet to sign and has said he has no problem returning to school if he does not receive a fair offer from MLS.

Last week, three-time All-American forward Robbie Kristo of Saint Louis University announced he was signing with a team in Italy’s Seria B rather than sign with MLS. Maryland goalkeeper Zack Steffen also passed up MLS to sign with Freiburg in Germany.

Not only is MLS losing out on players to Europe, they’re even losing players domestically. Maryland left back Mikey Ambrose, one of the top fullbacks in college soccer and a produce of the FC Dallas academy turned down the chance to sign a homegrown contract with FC Dallas, instead choosing to sign with the Austin Aztex in USL Pro.

MLS claims to want to get the best players from college soccer into pro soccer, but actions here are certainly speaking louder than words. League owners and front office executives may be frustrated with Klinsmann for advising young players to sign in Europe, but perhaps they should be pointing the finger at the league office rather than the national team technical director.

Because of the league’s single entity system, players sign with MLS out of college, not with individual teams. This means the league decides how much to offer a player entering the draft, rather than allowing individual teams to decide how much they value a potential prospect. American Soccer Now recently quoted one agent saying specifically that NYCFC has grown frustrated with the league because the league is not listening to teams about who should be in the draft of what they think players are worth.

Whether MLS is offering these players smaller deals than they’ve offered previous draft prospects or the top players this year are simply demanding more, it’s a situation MLS must address. It’s not as if the top draft picks are earning such high salaries that MLS teams can’t afford to pay them more. The top five players drafted in 2014 had base salaries between $55,000 – $80,000, according to the MLS Players Union.  Only Andre Blake and Christian Dean had base salaries above $65,000, and they were both Generation Adidas players.

For teams like NYCFC and OCSC especially, who are trying to build their rosters for their inaugural season, missing out on the top college prospects could hurt their chances of on field success early on. These teams paid around $100 million to get into MLS; now they risk losing out on its top players because of a difference of a few thousand dollars.  The top picks in the draft aren’t worth as much if the top tier of college players are not available. MLS was even forced to postpone the announcement of their initial Generation Adidas signings because so far only one player has signed.

If MLS really wants to bring the best talent playing in the United States into the league, they need to make fair contract offers. As long as they’re lowballing the most talented players coming out of college, top talent is going to keep leaving. MLS has said its goal is to be among the top leagues in the world, but if it can’t even keep the best talent coming out of the collegiate system, how is this supposed “talent pipeline” supposed to develop?

This year’s draft class was already expected to be below average, and it just keeps on getting worse. Hopefully the players’ union is fighting for fairer offers for young players in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and hopefully somebody in the league office is paying attention and realizing that losing out on the top college talent is a significant long term problem for MLS.

Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on twitter- @ericwalcott. Support LWOS by following us on Twitter – @LastWordOnSport and @LWOSworld – and “liking” our Facebook page.

Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for?

Feel free to discuss this and other footy related articles with thousands at r/football.