Monday, January 10, 2011

MLS Draft Not So Super

Thousands of MLS players have been drafted in the 15 years since the draft was introduced in 1996. Some have gone on to fantastic MLS careers, some of gone to Europe. However, many more have fizzled out over the years and ended their careers in the USL or become college soccer coaches.

I've looked at all the drafts over the past 15 years, and in that time only four players that were picked number one have gone on to careers in Europe. Only one can be classified as successful, though that is up for debate.

Steve Shak was the first number one to play in Europe. Shak was the first pick taken by the Metrostars in 2000. Shak spent four seasons in MLS with NY/NJ and Colorado Rapids playing 38 matches. He then signed with Minnesota Thunder before going to Sweden and playing for Bodens BK. That only lasted half a season before he ended up back in the US playing in the lower leagues until 2009.

In 2002, the Dallas Burn selected Chris Gbandi. Gbandi successful six year career in Dallas playing 111 matches. In 2008, he signed with Norway's Haugesund playing 38 matches and scoring five goals. However, in 2010 Gbandi returned to the US and played with Miami FC. At only 31, he could still be a decent MLS fullback.

In 2004, DC United selected Freddy Adu number one. However, unlike Shak and Gbandi he never played college soccer. We all know what has happened to Adu since he entered MLS and left for Europe.

Finally, in 2007 Toronto FC selected Maurice Edu with the first pick. Edu spent one and half season with TFC before being sold to Rangers. Edu it can be said, has been the most successful number one pick to play in Europe. However, injuries have cut short his playing time since joining Rangers.

It just shows the difficulty in taking college players and bringing them into the pro game without a step in between. Everyone assumes the reserve league will help, but with only a limited number of matches in the reserve league it may not. MLS is a cut-throat league and we've seen over the years that MLS coaches and GMs are not afraid to cut a player rather than let them develop over time. Four out of fifteen is a decent rate, I suppose. But when these are the cream of the crop to come from college you'd expect about half. Yes, draftees have gone on to play in Europe; but US college soccer should still be churning out more quality. The USSF loves to brag about the millions of kids playing youth, high school, club and college soccer; but they should brag about the former youth, high school, club and college players that have gone on to successful professional careers. There are a lot less.

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