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Jan 182014


images My Thoughts and Impressions From this Years MLS SuperDraft

New Philadelphia Union Goalkeeper Andre Blake posing with Union Head Coach John Hackworth after being selected first in Thursday’s SuperDraft

It is kind of ironic that as I am typing this article that the coffee shop that I am sitting at is playing Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” After having spent a day watching Major League Soccer put on their SuperDraft and puff their chest about being a major sport, it only feels appropriate to hear a song about what it is like to be a superstar. Much like the song, there was plenty to like and plenty to hate from yesterday’s event.

For the purpose of this article I am avoiding the traditional “grade each team’s performance with a letter grade” because frankly we do not know who had the best draft and who had the worst draft. It takes years to figure out who will work out and who will be a bust. Also, teams have not finished modeling their roster because the transfer market has not yet closed. In a few weeks we will have a better picture about how all of this breaks down.

That being said, there was quite a bit of news that came out of the SuperDraft, so here are a couple of observations from the event:

What I Liked

·         The New England Revolution adding Midfielder Steve Neumann and Forward Patrick Mullins to their already stacked team.

While there was certainly a lot of other news going on at the SuperDraft, teams were still looking to add a few new players. And no one had a better draft than the New England Revolution. Despite the team losing Forward Juan Agudelo to Stoke City, the club made two wise draft selections on Thursday, picking up Steve Neumann from Georgetown University and Patrick Mullins from the University of Maryland.

For a team that scored 49 goals last year these are two solid additions to an already potent, young offense. Although Neumann acts mostly as a defensive midfielder, he is excellent at maintaining possession and controlling the tempo of the match. One of New England’s main problems last year was that the team had trouble controlling possession when they had the league. In their road victory last year against the Houston Dynamo, the Revolution had great difficulty maintaining possession. They played as if they were behind, making long dangerous passes rather than controlling the clock. Neumann should help with this, sliding in front of Centerback Jose Goncalves. This should add an extra dimension to a team that had taken Sporting Kansas City to the limit in this year’s MLS Playoffs.

The Mullins pick is the more interesting choice. While Mullins is a two-time Hermann Trophy winner, there were questions about his scoring ability at a professional level and his dribbling. But the Revolution plays a very similar style to that of the University of Maryland so the transition should be a bit smoother than it would be if he would play for a team asking him to be the playmaker. Much like the Terps, the Revolution likes to stretch the field with its Left and Right midfielders and get the ball into the box to the Center Forward. Although Mullins does not have the playmaking abilities of a Juan Agudelo, he is much better at maintaining possession off of crosses and better shot selection. He reminds a lot of Conor Casey: a big, strong forward that is accurate with both feet.

The commitment that the New England Revolution and Coach Jay Heaps have made to developing young players has completely changed this team. It will be interesting to see if the Revolution can make the same transition that Sporting Kansas City made over the past few years, from being a team stuck in development to a power in the Eastern Conference.

·         The Philadelphia Union selecting Goalkeeper Andre Blake with the number one pick.

The popular consensus seems to be that taking a Goalkeeper with the first overall pick is heresy, that there is no way that a goalkeeper is more important than a field player. While this may be true, there is no doubt that in a weak draft the best player available in the draft this year was Andre Blake, a goalkeeper.

Those that are detractors about this pick will say that the Philadelphia Union already have a young goalkeeper in Zac MacMath, who was drafted by the club in 2011. But if you watched the Philadelphia Union last season, it was evident that MacMath still has a tremendous amount of learning to do about the position. He was far too indecisive with his distributions to his defenders and he would often be caught out of position by an opponent’s striker. These are skills that are taught at the basic levels of soccer and if he is still learning how to do it a professional level, then some serious questions need to be raised about his ability as a goalkeeper.

There is also a certain level of authority that a goalkeeper needs to play with in a place like Philadelphia. As a goalkeeper, your style of play often shows your personality. To play in a place like Philadelphia, you need to know how to take control of a game to be a dominant presence in the box. Otherwise, you are going to hear it from the supporters. MacMath does not seem to have that personality. Blake, based off of his performance in the College Cup, showed himself as someone who will get into it with opponents and defend the box using his physical skills.

For the Union, it also gives them an asset that they can use to strengthen the team in other directions. Although MacMath might not be the best fit for Philadelphia, he is still a very capable goalkeeper and could benefit any number of teams. Flipping MacMath for another piece that could benefit the Union would help them immensely.  It has been reported heavily that the club is very interested in signing Stoke City Midfielder Maurice Edu.  Drafting Midfielder Pedro Ribeiro late in the first round will give the team depth at the position even if Edu does not sign. So if drafting Blake leads the Union to picking up Edu, then the pick was worth it.

The point of a draft is to strengthen your club in whatever way possible. If the Union are able to add to a position of strength and then eventually turn an asset into a player like Edu, then without question their draft was a success.

·         MLS’ presentation of the event was top-notch.

If there is one thing that this league has wanted to do, it is to be treated like one of the top soccer leagues in all of the world. The problem is that unfortunately, their efforts have always felt like they have come up a bit short. From player transfers to big-time television deals to staging friendlies with top European clubs MLS craves respect from leagues abroad and from soccer supporters here at home. But these efforts always come up short. The biggest problem is that MLS always tries to stack themselves up against other leagues, rather than creating something unique and original. It appears they have found it in the SuperDraft.

Part of what made this experience so amazing is the backdrop. The MLS SuperDraft is just one event in a full week of soccer-related events at the NSCAA Coaches Convention. With close 10,000 people attending a plethora of lectures and coaching sessions, it is the rare opportunity for some of the best minds and people to discuss the American game. Not the European game, not the English game, the American game. To have so many of the best minds in the American game at one location discussing MLS, but also youth development, strength and conditioning, and all of the other nuances of the game strengthened the environment of the SuperDraft.

Although the notion of a draft is inherently an American idea, it is not necessarily a bad one. So much of the discussion about the SuperDraft revolves around youth development, which is obviously a very important subject. But there is so much more to it. It is a chance for supporters to get together and discuss their team’s future. Take a look at Twitter yesterday and see how many hits #SuperDraft and you will see something the league has lacked for years: buzz. While the SuperDraft was going on, there was news leaking out about Maurice Edu, the Miami expansion team, Camillo Sanvezzo, and the United States Men’s National Team.

The other thing worth noting is the coverage that the league received. While I was at the event itself, I was able to pull up the replay of the event on ESPN3 later in the evening. While there was more talking about the U.S. Men’s National Team that I like, there was finally a chance to talk about the league as a whole for three hours without any breaks. And not just Seattle Sounders and Landon Donovan. Analysts Alexi Lalas and Alejandro Moreno were able to go into great detail about subjects like Chivas USA, Generation Adidas, and the Designated Player rule. Part of the league’s problem is that these opportunities are rare for the league. Many of the league’s problems go back to their inability to build a basic awareness of the league. ESPN’s coverage was spot and perhaps an indication of where they might be heading with their expanded television deal.

It may not be the best system for developing players, but it is undeniable that yesterday’s SuperDraft definitely generated some excitement for the league.

What I Didn’t Like

      The Draft process itself needs to be overhauled.

Anytime your league needs twenty minutes to explain how the draft process works and who can be drafted, you might need to rethink the process. It was a very surreal experience sitting in the press box on Thursday, listening to seasoned soccer journalists working together to figure out all of the draft regulations. I can only imagine what the average fan tuning in to ESPNews thought when terms like “Generation Adidas,” “Youth Academy,” and “Designated Player” were being thrown around like they were common terms. While MLS wants to be treated like a big-time professional sports league, its byzantine rules and regulations make it very difficult for non-hardcore supporters to follow.

The one thing that really stuck out for me though was the use of timeouts. I think someone forgot to tell MLS Commissioner Don Garber that there are no timeouts in soccer. While the MLS SuperDraft obviously garnered some much-needed buzz for the game, many of MLS’ flaws were shown to the football world. The most glaring of which was the use of a timeout during a live draft, which happened twice in the first round. Now while it is certainly understandable that teams will need time to scout and assess players there is absolutely no reason that a club should need more time to make a decision.

Oh and thank you to the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union supporters group, for booing Garber after announcing the first time out

         The single-entity system has to go. Now.

This kind of builds off of my first point, but it is such a big issue that it needs to elaborated on. Part of what makes drafts so exciting is the uncertainty in the air. It is a place where kids entering into the league and veteran players are on edge. There are so many rumors and theories being thrown out about who might go where that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the rumor mill. This was the sort of excitement that was happening when Maurice Edu’s name was being mentioned during draft day. There was some expectation that the announcement might be made that day. It wasn’t. Why? Because of the single-entity system.

For those who are unaware, all of MLS operates under a single-entity system where international clubs have to negotiate player transfers with MLS and not an individual club. It was created at a time when the league’s owners were worried of the league dissolving.  So if Mr. Edu wants to come back to MLS his club, Stoke City, will have to negotiate directly with the league. If the transfer is made, Edu will then be allowed to negotiate with the team that is at the top of the Allocation Order list. The Allocation Order list is a ranking of teams of who will have the first chance to negotiate a signing with a U.S. National Team player. It works out well for the Union right now because they are at the top of the Allocation Order. However, if they were the second team and wanted to negotiate with a player, they would have to make a trade. Properly confused yet?

While the single-entity system made sense when the league was starting out, at this point in the league’s history clubs should be allowed to make decisions without intervention from big brother. This is a league that should no longer be worried about teams going bankrupt and the league being run out of business. Soccer finally has roots here in the United States. It is very troubling that on a week where Toronto F.C. shelled out 16 million dollars for Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe that the league reportedly vetoed the $1.2 million transfer offer the Union made for Edu. It smacks of favoritism and can only be detrimental for the league.

What will be interesting to see is how the new owners entering into the league will change the player acquisition process. Groups like Manchester City and the New York Yankees, who are co-owners of the expansion New York City F.C. team that is entering into the league in 2015, are not exactly known for their patience or for gradual development. New ideas is critical for this league to make the next big step in development. MLS has a good event to market itself to the American public in the MLS SuperDraft. It just needs to figure out the details to make it great.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today, Soccerly, D.C. Soccer, Soccer Without Limits, and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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