Failed MLS Re-Entry Draft leaves bad PR smell

Aaron Hohlbein

Two players.

That’s the grand total of eligible out of-contract players who got new deals with new clubs during Wednesday’s first-ever MLS draft.

And neither was what you would call a marquee name — striker Joseph Ngwenya was taken first overall by D.C. United — and defender Aaron Hohlbein, who spent time in second-division soccer last season with Miami FC, was taken by Columbus Crew.

The star names, like Designated Player Juan Pablo Angel, were left untouched. Actually, pretty well everyone was left untouched through Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft, where teams are required to at least match what the players made last season.

But, how will this news be greeted by the MLS Players’ Union? When MLS and the players’ union signed an 11th-hour deal to save the 2010 season from a labour stoppage, the Re-Entry Draft was the great compromise. The league refused to cave in on union’s free-agency demand, but offered the Draft as a way to assure the union that owners would make sure out-of-contract players would find ways to get work.

When MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced the draft system in March, he said the league would change, but “do it in an evolutionary way rather than a revolutionary way.”

But, if the draft saw few players make moves , then the MLS Players’ Union will have every right to gripe that owners colluded to shut out the players who are out of contract. It may not be the truth, but the optics are terrible. So far, the MLSPU has yet to release a statement on the draft, and that should be expected. Its executive director, Bob Foose, has always been careful about making public statements.

Now, the players left in the hat — all but two — go into a new Dec. 15 draft in which teams can negotiate new deals with them, with no guarantees on wage floors.

So, no matter the footballing reasons that most MLS GMs stayed out of the Re-Entry Draft, the end result leaves the league with a lot of egg on its face. Because, at this very second, the Re-Entry Draft is looking a lot like a broken system — or, even worse, a hall of mirrors designed to confuse the players union into agreeing into a deal.

That’s because only two players moved on to contracts of equal value. Safe to say, that’s a scenario no one imagined back in March.


About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.