How Much Thinner Can the MLS Talent Pool Get?

Pretty much everyone with an interest in seeing Major League Soccer mature into a respectable grown up soccer league, from Commissioner Garber on down to the guy who just plunked down 50 bucks for a season ticket deposit in Portland agrees that one of the top priorities for MLS teams needs to be developing some depth.

The majority of teams can compete pretty well when they are able to put their first eleven guys on the field. The problem is that most of the time that's not possible. This is professional sports, and injuries are as frequent as Terry Vaughn blowing a call. One of the biggest differences that separate the winners from the losers is the presence of decent second-line players who can keep the level of play reasonably high when the starter goes down.

Additionally, MLS is committed to a host of outside competitions - Superliga, Champions league, US Open Cup and various now-obligatory mid-season "exhibitions" with European teams looking for a scrimmage - and everyone understands that roster depth is an increasingly important indicator of a team's ability to succeed in (and/or survive) the long MLS season.

More and more, the issue of "depth" is tossed around as being one of the key elements - maybe THE key element - in building a consistent winner.

Unfortunately, as with all things in MLS, the guys who own and run the league have an agenda whose short term goals run counter to the best interests of the teams themselves. In this case, the agenda is expansion.

Consider:

Since 20004, when Real Salt Lake and Seedy Chivas were admitted to the league, MLS has averaged one "Expansion Draft" per year.

The only year since then when there was not a draft was 2005, but since two teams were stocked from the 2004 draft and there was one in 2006, 20007 and 2008 it seems fair to say that it's a yearly occurrence.

The numbers are easy to determine: five years of drafts consisting of ten players each means that 50 players have moved (ignoring the fact that a guy like James Riley, the poster boy for MLS Expansion drafts, seems to get a new team every year. Nate Jaqua isn't far behind)

The Chicago Fire, somewhat surprisingly, has been the biggest loser as six former RedMen have been plucked off their roster by incoming teams.

That's an entire bench right there.

New York, New England, Houston(SJ), DC and the Crew have all said so long to five players who might otherwise still be showing up for work every day.

In 2009 there's going to be another one (Philadelphia) making it six years running. If Barcelona and the Bolivian phone guy manage to bully the league into letting them join in 2010, that'll be 20 players going in the next draft (which is now less than a year away).

And of course the league seems determined to find someone, anyone, to come in in 2011, maybe a couple of someones, maybe even three someones, bringing the league to 20 members.

Maybe I missed the part where Major League Soccer had become so talent-rich and so overloaded with quality players that you can suck the twelfth man off of every team's roster year after year after year and still have the unmitigated gall to lecture everyone about how they really need to try and develop some "depth".

There aren't that many leagues on Earth where most teams wouldn't feel the pinch if you came around, year after year, and stole their 12th best player. Doing it once in a while, maybe it wouldn't make that much of a difference.

Doing it six, or seven of eight years in a row, and maybe tossing in a year or two when they get to grab TWO of your backup players, is simply ridiculous.

And if anyone wants an explanation for why Major League Soccer expanded the senior roster to 20 this year, perhaps one good one is so that you'll have enough guys left to hold an offseason workout after a few new teams are invited to rummage around your roster.

Watch this year's draft closely: you thought those draft-exempt GenA's were popular before? I wouldn't be surprised to see all those coaches and GMs in the draft room rolling around on the floor wrestling over them.