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Failed MLS Re-Entry Draft leaves bad PR smell


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.”

Aaron Hohlbein

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.

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  1. Kurt Larson

    December 9, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    If players aren’t selected in the second stage of the draft do they automatically become free-agents anyway?

    • Steven Sandor

      December 9, 2010 at 6:23 pm

      MLS officially calls it a first-come, first-serve basis. But, since MLS controls all contracts centrally, I’m not sure if free-agency is the right term…

  2. Branden

    December 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I think your post is a bit of an over-reaction.

    The main issue the MLS -PU has was the limited movement available to their players, and the fact that some could be held hostage from a club that held its rights. This was seen with players such as Adrian Serioux and Kevin Hartman in the past off-season.

    There is little doubt that all of the players can move this offseason, the question is only at what price? Pretty much every player in the reentry draft is deemed to be over paid by MLS standards, which makes them unattractive in a salary cap league. Would YOU pay over 200k for Nick Garcia?

    However, between now and the 2nd round new contracts can be negotiated, and most of these players will stick around, just at lower salaries. I’ll place good money on Garcia playing in the MLS next year, but not at a salary that takes up about 8% of the available cap space. Pay him 80k next year, and he becomes a little more attractive to clubs though.

    • Steven Sandor

      December 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm

      But MLS made sure that Hartman and Serioux got moved to new clubs in order to help along the CBA process. Because the optics were important to the league.

      The system is supposed to be an improvement over the old 48-hour right-of-first refusal system. Is it? That will be the question. Is the draft better, or could some players be, dare I mention it, wishing for the old system — which would see a team retain the rights of a player even after his contract expired?

      To compare: Under the old system, if another team wanted an out-of-contract player, MLS would be notified and that player would be signed. His old team would have 48 hours to take the allocation from MLS and keep him, or trade his rights (this is what usually happened, why so many players went for third- or fourth-round draft picks). If the deal didn’t happen, the player would be placed on waivers; if another team claimed him ahead of the team that wanted him (and where he likely wanted to go), he’d have to go there.

      Usually, MLS helped these deals along to ensure that players ended up where they wanted to go. Hartman and Serioux were used as hard-luck cases by the union, but neither missed on MLS regular-season day of service.

      But, now, the system has left a lot of players waiting, waiting, waiting… and not all of them are overpaid like Garcia.

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