You Asked For It

>> Saturday

Because you asked for it in the comments of this YCS post , you get my commentary on this SI.com article detailing the raw deal that a number of graduating senior NCAA soccer players get upon entering the MLS Draft. On a side note, come visit YCS's token soccer writer as he brings live coverage of the 2009 MLS Draft on January 15th at the Edward Jones Dome/Convention Center in St. Louis, MO. And by "live coverage" I mean I'm skipping my Trial Ad class to drink beer all afternoon and heckle ESPN's lousy soccer commentators, and the players New England and Columbus draft with a Section 8 Chicago traveling contingent.

Basic summary
A select number of outstanding junior players are given a "Generation Adidas" tag. As an incentive to leave college early. These players get roster protection, and their salary does not count towards a team's limited salary cap. They tend to be the most talented junior players (past alums include Tim Howard (now with Everton), DaMarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu (both now with Rangers FC), and Jozy Altidore (now with Villareal). They are highly prized in the draft both for their already-shown talent, their young age and potential, and their inexpense.

Graduating seniors taken in the first round get roster protection, but the rest are usually signed to developmental contracts, usually making roughly the same salary as a minor-league baseball player.

The article says that this gives college players a raw deal, and is driving talented players who could be playing in MLS to comparable leagues overseas, such as Austria, Switzerland, and the Benelux and Scandinavian leagues., and recommends either roster protection, an increase in salary, or some combination of the two to encourage talented college players to enter MLS.

My take
The author seems to imply that a good college career should be a free pass for an MLS signing, but MLS is a league unlike others in the United States. The Draft has great importance for the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB because either 1.) That league is the most prominent, if not the only major league for top players to play in in the world, and/or 2.) the talent pools are drawn primarily from the ranks of college players, due to the sport being played only in one area of the world (North America).

MLS (and other soccer leagues) draw their players from all over the world. As such, NCAA draftees not only must be better players than their peers, but also better than some kid from El Salvador or Argentina or Ghana. While this hypothetical foreign player may not have played in the NCAA, he may have been playing professional soccer with his local club's development academy since he was 15.

MLS has also seen a shift towards ignoring the college game and raising their own talent levels through official team youth academies, where for example, DC United has their senior team, a U-23 team, a U-20 team and a U-18 team, all playing under the DC United badge. Soon, these will become attractive opportunities for young soccer players, which will place even less emphasis on the college game.

These factors of player development, combined with the economy which is already hurting sports leagues (although not MLS yet), combined with MLS's already-developing, but still tenuous financials, make it unlikely that we will see a change in roster-protection status, or increased salary among later-round NCAA draftees.

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