The MLS SuperDraft is an idea whose time has gone.
As fully-rounded people with a healthy balance of idealism and realism, we know that simply because something has become an obsolete hindrance, well...that doesn't mean it's going away anytime soon.
It's worthwhile to look at the history of player drafts in other sports. That, sadly, doesn't make it particularly interesting, so let's nutshell the whole business. In the 1930's, the NFL had player recruiting issues. It was bad enough the NFL had to compete with yet another upstart league (an AFL whose major claim to fame was the origin of the Cleveland Rams, a team that's been in the news lately for some reason), but that darned free market was allowing rich and/or good teams to attract more players than bad and/or crummy teams. So the college player draft (the name chosen because "NFL Calls Dibs" seemed unprofessional) helped the league's teams keep salaries down.
The reader will note that this was all happening around 1935 and 1936, where the free market's reputation in America wasn't exactly at Calvin Coolidge/Ron Paul levels. Since the draft allowed rich and/or good teams to save far more money on salaries than it cost to scout players, the idea was a lasting success. Even in the collective bargaining era, players unions choose not to oppose the draft, since it only affects players who are not in the league (and, therefore, the union). Therefore, except in unusual circumstances, players based in America have accepted drafts as a fact of life for generations.
Soccer players, however, operate in a completely different ecosphere. MLS doesn't need a method to keep other leagues from tearing up their contracts - there's a FIFA for that. Outlaw upstarts against the existing order are even more rare in international soccer than in domestic US leagues - there's nowhere to jump to anymore. FIFA's reach is everywhere, and their enforcement stick - places in international competition - has no remote equivalent in the United States. Even if, in the 21st century post-Bosman, post-maximum wage era, Colombia (for example) decided they could afford to outbid European teams, they couldn't simply not pay transfer fees to players under contract. The fans wouldn't tolerate the threat to Colombia's World Cup participation. Once upon a time US fans might have - because, really, what was there to take away? - but that horse has long since sailed.
So "I saw him first!" as a player allocation strategy is largely unheard of in international soccer. (The "draft" in Mexico is more like a one-day transfer window and trade deadline - I think. It's not quite the same sort of draft as considered north of the Rio Grande, but it's bizarre enough that I'm surprised MLS hasn't instituted its own version.) So one of the main drivers for drafts in other American sports evaporates. Prospects on the right side of the bell curve are going to get their money and choose their team, either in the US or abroad. Stanford's Jordan Morris, who frankly has been Stanford's Jordan Morris for at least two years too long, is illustrating this as we speak. Very rarely do highly rated gridiron prospects have a credible option outside the domestic league - hot prospects in American soccer almost always do.
And, if the NASL would care to get on with the business of actually challenging MLS, said prospects' options would become even rosier - and affect more than just the tip of the player pool hat. We can also discuss whether we agree with the court in Fraser v. MLS, and that players should be obliged to leave the country if they want to truly choose their own employer (or, if you like, their own direct supervisors). But "I can take my ball and go abroad" has been an option since 1996, and will always remain. The MLS draft doesn't depress contracts nearly as drastically as those in other US sports. So its useful function, from the owners' point of view, is much less. The owners pay slightly less for players who, in the world market, aren't worth a great deal more than their negotiating power would be without the draft.
There have been de facto and de jure exceptions to the MLS SuperDraft almost since before there was a SuperDraft. "Homegrown" status simply makes it explicit. Ideally, one day the best young players in America won't be eligible for the SuperDraft, because they had been picked already - and by efforts far more substantial than simply finishing last in the conference.
With the SuperDraft beset from within and without MLS, it's no surprise that its direct impact on teams has diminished over the years. The international market has always been there to cut off its crown, and ideally MLS team academies and reserve teams will one day replace the rest.
In the short run, MLS should call it by a more accurate name - the Supplemental Draft, perhaps. Or the Amateur Draft. The "super" adjective is belied dozens of ways. Bruce Arena left the proceedings before they even started, on the grounds that once the Galaxy traded away their pick for new MLS rising star T.A. Money, there was nothing keeping him in Baltimore.
Let's unpack that for a second. Nobody in the player pool was worthy of Arena's attention. None of the possible moves that the other 19 teams could have done with those players, or each other, was worthy of Arena's attention. Hell, there wasn't anything at the entire Baltimore coaches convention that was worthy of Arena's attention. Did any team improve themselves? If they did, Arena would learn about it from Matt Doyle and Jonathan Yardley like everyone else. (Brandon Vincent, rookie of the year. Thanks, Matt, now I know as much about the draft, if not more, than the Galaxy head coach.)
Does this mean not a single player taken in Baltimore will have any worthwhile career in MLS? Depends on what you mean by worthwhile. Teams are lucky if they get a player who stays with them for four years anymore. If there are potential All-Stars and national team players to be had, that speaks more to early scouting failure than anything else.
MLS has never made a star on draft day, and it's time they stopped trying. Down the road, the teams can, should, and will be able to find their own players.
That's what I keep coming back to, after reading Jonathan Tannenwald's depressing, excellent report on the litigation that followed Peter Nowak's run as Philadelphia Union coach. Could he have genuinely thought this his methods were leading to success? The Union did peek over .500 and show up to the playoffs in 2011, his last full season. But 2012 was humming along to the tune of 2 wins, 2 ties, and 7 losses when Nowak was awarded the Order of the Brown Can. One of those wins was against Chivas USA, who were then well on their way to becoming what they are today. Probably didn't help that Nowak was answering want ads in Edinburgh, either.
And now we know, of course, that things like this were happening:
... the hazing of rookies, by spanking them, sometimes with a sandal, was completely unacceptable. Mr. Nowak brought this practice to the Philadelphia Union. His description of what he did was quite unnerving, especially when he described how he put his hand In a bucket of ice water to ease his pain, obviously because he was hitting the young people so hard. In the [redacted] one of the rookies spanked [redacted]. I take notice of the fact that Mr. Sakiewlcz was made aware of the hazing, and could have done more to stop it. I nevertheless conclude that the Claimant was responsible for, participated in, and encouraged his veteran players to participate In this deplorable practice.
It Is simply unacceptable, given the common knowledge of the dangers of concussions, for a head coach to vilify those who suffered from symptoms, by calling players "pussies" or "weak." Mr. Nowak's testimony that he attempted to resolve this Issue by ordering helmets for players is an ineffective band-aid.
I conclude that Mr. Nowak engaged in egregious behavior, threatening the safety and health of his players, with respect to the May 31, 2012 training run. After a difficult loss to Toronto, the Claimant held a team meeting, the intent of which was clearly to threaten players with being traded, mentioning Mr. [redacted] by name, and advising them that planned days-off would be cancelled, and further training would be scheduled. Given the Claimant's prior behavior, this threat had special significance. While a coach certainly needs to motivate players, and to that end can require them to engage in arduous training, Mr. Nowak's actions here crossed the line. [This specific statement was about a training run of at least seven miles where Nowak told the team trainer "No [expletive] water, put the water back, water will make you lose focus and if you're thirsty you are weak."]
Those were statements from the arbitrator in Nowak's case, about, respectively, hazing, ignoring concussions, and dehydration of players. If you skimmed to get here - Nowak was f'r 'em, the arbitrator agin' em.
But what on earth for? What was he hoping to accomplish? That "difficult loss" to Toronto the arbitrator referenced was the last game Nowak coached for the Union. The team hadn't just hit the skids, they were pummelling the hell out of them.
And Nowak's solution? More spankings, less water. And get those damn goldbricking "concussion" "victims" out of the bubble bath and onto the field.
How on earth do you get there? Where did he learn that was how to motivate players? Who radicalized him? When he got to MLS, was he surprised that players were being given water and no one was being spanked?
....or worse, he saw that players weren't being given water but were being spanked? And he thought, "Hey. This is working. I gotta remember this for when I coach a team."
It couldn't possibly have helped, could it? Let's pretend medical consensus is wrong and Nowak is right, and that water is a sedative and concussions are a myth. Where, outside of Castle Anthrax, is spanking a valid motivational tool?
There's not even a "hazing" setting on Football Manager. And I think I know the reason for that. Hazing usually happens when authorities turn a blind eye...not when authority is doing the actual spanking.
And, of course, having the spanking videotaped.
Again - step away from the moral black hole here. How do you draw up a training schedule, and write something like "2:00 - 2:30: spanking; 2:45 - 3:30: review spanking film," and not have an angel appear before you to urge you to reconsider your training regimen?
Nowak's methods have a long and storied history. Dehydration was used much more frequently in the past as a means to toughen athletes - Bear Bryant at Texas A&M is probably the most famous example, and Bryant went on to college coaching sainthood. We all know how concussions have been disregarded over the decades - we'd like to think this was in the past due to lack of medical knowledge.
Regardless of how traditional or not this sort of thing is in coaching, it no longer works - and didn't work for the Union. Rarely has an in-season firing been less surprising or more easily justified.
So knowing all this, why did Nowak sue the Union for wrongful termination? Admittedly, he and the team both hoped to keep the details secret - but what was he hoping to accomplish? Getting the Union job back? A glowing letter of recommendation? Anything besides the assured inevitability that the details would be committed to writing, under oath, and stored in public records? The best thing you can say is that Nowak took a lot of lousy advice - one assumes from the guy in the mirror.
Naturally, reading the details, you'd assume that no team on the planet would sign Nowak as coach. Nowak's current gig is the coach of Antigua and Barbuda, who last September were eliminated from World Cup qualifying by Guatemala. A FIFA.com article in June spoke of Nowak in glowing terms, and you can always trust what you hear from FIFA. Since Antigua hasn't fired Nowak yet, perhaps he has cleaned up his act. Or, perhaps no unhappy player has come forward. In any case, Antigua seems content to hold on to Nowak.