Did Leo Stolz Kill the MLS Super Draft?

In last week’s MLS Super Draft the New York Red Bulls selected UCLA midfielder and 2014 MAC Hermann Award winner Leo Stolz. When the pick was made, it was viewed as a risk because Stolz had declined a Generation Adidas deal after his junior and senior years at UCLA and was supposedly on trial in his native Germany for a team in the 2.Bundesliga. Red Bull leadership however, was confident that they would get their man.

Stolz reportedly told MLS teams that he only wanted to play in New York or Los Angeles. Of this, NYRB coach Jesse Marsch told MLSSoccer.com:

“He didn’t quite understand our system, and he wanted to be able to control his destiny a little bit more…he’s committed to being here, so we will see him in a New York Red Bulls jersey.”

Stolz was viewed by most as one of the top players in the draft and perhaps the most MLS ready prospect. The only reason he fell to NYRB, who selected Stolz with the 18th pick, was because of his stated desire to play in either Los Angeles or New York, combined with his options in Germany. I wrote a prior to the draft about how this year’s draft was going to be less than super (The MLS Draft Is Not So Super). Stolz’s case is just another example.

Last week, Stolz signed a contract with the Red Bulls, and Marsch has said he expects Stolz to be a contributor right away.

So what does this mean? In the immediate term it obviously means that Leo Stolz will be a New York Red Bulls player. But bigger picture, this could be the final nail in the coffin for the MLS Super Draft.

No, I’m not saying I expect the MLS Draft to go away. Despite what anyone may argue about the quality of players within the college system and their presence in MLS, there will always be players coming out of college and the draft is the best way to distribute them.

Realistically though, if a player like Stolz can say he’ll only play in Los Angeles or New York and just like that 17 teams pass up the top player in the draft, then what’s the point? What’s to stop every top player coming out of college from saying “I’ll only sign with MLS if I can play for [insert desired location]?”

What if Cyle Larin had said he only wanted to play for Toronto FC, Montreal Impact or Vancouver Whitecaps? This isn’t like the NFL, where the top college players tend to make a big impact as a rookie. If Larin had said he’d refuse to sign with Orlando City, they probably couldn’t have gotten much in return if they’d drafted him and tried to trade him, as has happened in the NFL and other American leagues in the past with top draft picks (See: Eli Manning).

The MLS Super Draft suffered another pie in the face moment this week during the final stages of the draft. The third and fourth round of the draft took place on Tuesday, and CB Ramon Martin del Campo went undrafted. While you may not have seen del Campo play (I haven’t) and you may know much about him (I don’t), he’s important. Ramon Martin del Campo is important because he was projected by everybody to be selected high in the first round. So high, in fact, that MLS offered del Campo a contract prior to the draft, which he signed. So, del Campo, a college kid with an MLS contract, went undrafted. Make sense of that.

Maybe instead of offering players a contract with the league before they get drafted MLS could learn a bit from the NFL and put in place a salary structure for rookie contracts. Better yet, just let teams make their picks and then leave it to them to sign the players. Given the structure of MLS and how players are signed that second part is unlikely, but at the very least something should be done to ensure that players aren’t given contracts if teams aren’t interested in them.

With an increasing number of top college players skipping the draft to pursue options in Europe, something clearly needs to be done. One player even chose to snub MLS in favor of USL Pro! That would be Maryland Defender Mikey Ambrose who left college early to sign with USL Pro side Austin Aztex rather than enter the MLS Draft.

Top players like Stolz, especially those with European connections, hold a significant amount of power in a situation like this, they just haven’t really put it to use. Until now. With Stolz essentially getting exactly what he wanted out of this, a contract to play soccer for the New York Red Bulls, perhaps he’s exposed the gap in the system that could lead to significant changes in how ameteur players get into MLS.

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