Home MLS More MLS How important is the MLS SuperDraft, anyways?

How important is the MLS SuperDraft, anyways?

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The post-expansion draft wheeling and dealing continued Thursday as Vancouver sent defender-midfielder Nathan Sturgis to Toronto FC for a first-round pick in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft.

It’s an interesting move, considering that the Reds has no first-round pick in 2010, either. But, after the team cleaned house —getting rid of extra parts like defenders Maxsim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics, and midfielder Martin Saric, all foul-happy players who were brought into former coach Preki’s steely system which asked his team to disrupt the flow of the opposition rather than be creative — there was plenty of space for the Reds to bring in a player who could be useful when the 2011 campaign kicks off.

TFC made a clear decision. Sturgis is 23; he was a member of the U-20 World Cup squad the Americans sent to Canada in 2007, and was eliminated from the tournament with a shock loss to Austria at BMO Field.

In the minds of the Toronto brass, getting an established-yet-young player who can play in the back four or in a holding midfield slot would be better than bringing in a player through the draft. A drafted player has potential, but would need to be groomed. Sturgis is ready for the starting XI.

But is this a sign of things to come? Will more and more teams be willing to give away their draft picks? Are NCAA players becoming less and less relevant year after year?

MLS now allows its member teams to bring in as many players from their academies as they want, allowing teams to bring in players when they are teens and skip the NCAA route altogether. When TFC advisor Jürgen Klinsmann gives his final recommendations to the Reds, it’s expected he will tell them to go the Bayern Münich route, to make it a goal to have as many academy players graduate to the senior team as possible, while working hand-in-hand with the national team.

This season, the MLS rookie of the year, D.C. United’s Andy Najar, was an academy player. Add to that the number of academy players who have grown into their clubs’ senior rosters, from Los Angeles Galaxy striker Tristan Bowen to Reds’ defender Doneil Henry. The trend is growing.

The academy is the thing; and, if the Reds are serious about grooming local kids, the college draft becomes less and less important. When MLS lifted all restrictions on how many academy players can graduate to their senior teams in one season, it was a shot across the bow of all the major NCAA programs.

Really, MLS will go the way of the National Hockey League. Yes, NCAA programs do produce quality NHL prospects, but not nearly in the number of junior programs you find across Canada and in a few American outposts. These junior programs grab the kids when they are in their mid-teens, and set these young men up for life in the NHL.

MLS academies will work like the junior hockey programs — except, unlike hockey, a kid from the academy doesn’t have to go through the draft.

The fact that TFC was so easily willing to part with a top draft pick is a symbol of the diminishing importance of the SuperDraft. More and more teens will be choosing between college soccer and the academies — and, like hockey prospects, rejecting the NCAA route.

The academy system is far more democratic. It allows a talented prospect to develop into a player. In the NCAA, depending on the program for which you play, you can get lost in the shuffle.

Really, to be invited to the MLS Combine, you need to come from a big soccer school — one of the Atlantic Coast Conference powers, like Wake Forest, Virginia or Maryland; or from the established programs like Saint Louis or Akron.

Before the 2010 season, Iona College grad and Burlington, Ont. native Nils Binstock got a trial with the Reds. He knew he wasn’t going to be drafted, despite winning 14 of 19 NCAA stars and posting a 0.66 goals-against average.

“For many reasons, some of them political, the MLS combine is dominated by the big-name schools, and there isn’t a lot of representation from the smaller-conference schools,” Binstock, who didn’t make the club, said of not being invited to the combine or being drafted.

Now, TFC can protect the next Nils Binstock rather than see him subjected to the politics and fickle rankings of the NCAA.

And, instead, can offer their first-round draft up for barter knowing that, as the academies go forward, teams won’t have to look to American colleges for talent.

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