MLS Needs to Rethink the Re-Entry Draft and Free Agency

By Kevin Koczwara

Major League Soccer doesn’t follow the same rules the rest of the world goes by. It doesn’t have to, it is still a new league in comparison to the one’s in Europe or in South America. The MLS needs time to grow, time to stretch its big, lengthy arms out and grow to understand itself and its place in the world of professional sports.

The MLS needs to start examining how leaves fans confused. By not following the basic principals that other professional leagues have found so successful, the MLS has exiled some fans while making itself look second rate at times. And this league is good and getting better by the year and keeps being forgotten because of all the changes.

This isn’t the time to leave people behind.

The Re-Entry Draft is another example of a league trying to figure out how to make it a fair competition that keeps all the teams and fans happy. It gives team’s with less fortunate records the chance to pick up the best free-agents before the better clubs can come in and pull a New York Yankees kind of swoop. Wait, I mean more like the Philadelphia Phillies.

The re-entry draft took place in two stages, last week team’s could pick an eligible player for the re-entry draft and the team just picks up that player’s contract. Simple. But, not much happened because team’s didn’t want to pay the eligible players the kind of money they were making.

Teams want to negotiate contracts on their terms, not another team’s terms.

That’s where stage two comes in.

Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft gives team’s a chance to negotiate with players after they are selected. It’s kind of free-agency, kind of not. Players and team’s work on the terms, but players don’t have 100 percent of the control as they would in the free-agent market. There is a short window for the player and the team to get a deal worked out, but one has to believe that both sides have an idea of what the player’s market value is before the selection.

But is the draft necessary for the league to be successful? I don’t think so.

The MLS is a small league in comparison to others around the world, there is no doubting that. And its size works to the MLS’s advantage. No one team can really pull in enough talent to dominate week in and week out.

Last year’s Supporter’s Shield winners, The Los Angeles Galaxy, won plenty of games without its prized-asset, David Beckham. Bruce Arena did a great job molding the young talent on the Galaxy, and working with his backline – especially Omar Gonzalez – and his goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, making it almost impossible for anyone to score against the Galaxy. It wasn’t the presence of Landon Donovan or David Beckham that made this team tick, no it was the collective power of a skilled, but not great, defense that really pushed LA ahead of everyone.

Real Salt Lake did similar and almost caught the Galaxy. Real won because it had the toughest, most ball-hungry and skilled defense in the league. Salt lake had the the second best record in the MLS despite no real star players. There was no Thierry Henry or Juan Pablo Angel, or even a David Ferriera in the squad – which ultimately lead to RSL’s demise in the MLS Cup Playoffs – but the team worked as a collective and the skill amassed by the team’s front office worked day in and day out at being the best XI on the field.

Soccer is a team sport. There are 11 players on both sides with similar goals. yes, there can be moments of individual brilliance and some players can single-handily take a game over, but there aren’t many of those types of players, and even they need some help getting the ball. So, the MLS needs to think that the owners will be smart, understand this. By forcing teams into a re-entry draft the MLS has removed much of free-agency and a lot of the fun for fans and teams.

The MLS isn’t La Liga, The English Premier League, Serie A or the Bundesliga. No, it isn’t a league with years of history. It doesn’t have fans across the globe, yet, and has to keep growing. So, why on earth did it decide to invent another type of confusing draft process for fans to go through.

The top leagues in the world have academies, and the MLS has done a great job implementing an academy and homegrown player system. But, why does it feel like it needs another draft? The SuperDraft is okay by me. It gives team’s a chance to get some top-talent when they are struggling. It can level the playing field in the long run if a team does the necessary research.

A draft for players in the league doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t grasp it as someone who loves the MLS, professional soccer, and wants to see this league become one of the most entertaining in the world. I can’t see that happening if the MLS keeps instating more and more drafts. If a team doesn’t want to resign a player then that player should go straight to free-agency like every other professional sports league in the U.S. and the world. It is hard for fans on the fringes to understand these types of process, and it gives the league a bad rap in the media.

The MLS needs to be 100 percent sure of itself in the next few years if it really wants to break into the mainstream, and Re-Entry drafts make the league look unsure and second rate. It’s just another excuse for the mainstream media to bash or ignore the league because they can’t get a hold of all the processes. It’s time to get rid of the American aspect in this European game.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.

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