After a lack of news and announcements from the Chicago Fire, things sure picked up this week and the source of that was the MLS SuperDraft.
It is easy to argue that the draft has lost some of its luster since the homegrown player rule has changed the landscape of the draft. More and more teams are developing more and more players through their academy systems, which is syphoning top talent from the draft.
In December, the Fire signed two homegrown players in Northwestern forward Joey Calistri and Wisconsin midfielder Drew Conner. (For the record, TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Travis Clark said Calistri and Conner would both probably slide in as third or fourth round picks in this draft had they not signed homegrown deals with the Fire.) According to MLSsoccer.com’s offseason tracker 16 players have already been signed as homegrown players this offseason, and that doesn’t even include Hermann Trophy winner and U.S. Men’s National Team player Jordan Morris, who is mulling signing with Seattle as a homegrown or signing with a European team.
With so many quality names missing from the draft class, it becomes tougher and tougher to find good talent.
“Approached the right way it can provide a valuable asset or two,” Clark said of the draft. “That said, of the 80 players that are going to get picked I can’t imagine more than 15 or 20 at the very highest will still be on an MLS roster a year from now, and it could be lower than that. It’s a little bit of mixed bag and obviously you have the homegrown program that sheers down the number of kids, you have kids that skip college altogether or go to Europe.”
It’s hard to say that the quality of the talent pool in the draft hasn’t lessened in recent years, but that doesn’t mean the draft doesn’t still serve a different purpose. That purpose is to create buzz about a league during its offseason.
That point wasn’t lost on Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez as he explained during his conference call with the media on Tuesday. He noted that the MLS season ended in early December and the league basically goes dark until draft time.
“The SuperDraft itself is, almost on a yearly basis, the No. 1 traffic day of the year on MLSsoccer.com,” Rodriguez said. “One need only look at the NFL and the NBA and what they’ve done with their drafts and how that hype keeps those leagues relevant and consumer friendly at a time that their sports aren’t being played. It’s amazing to me. There’s a place and a need for the combine and a place and a need for the SuperDraft and I see that for the foreseeable future.”\
[SHOP: Gear up, Fire fans!]
So while the MLS SuperDraft may be dwindling in terms of relevance on the field, its relevance off it remains. In addition, Rodriguez spoke of the hope a new, young player gives to a franchise and its fan base.
“I believe the draft in any sports league provides something that is critical to every fan of every team and that’s hope,” he said. “The draft pick, whether the first person chosen or the last person chosen, represents hope to a fan base and to a front office staff. The hope that the player selected will prove to be an instrumental contributor or even a difference maker to the present and future of the team.”
Each offseason, baseball fans flock to media outlets for the latest gossip coming from the Winter Meetings. The start of the NBA free agency period has become a frenzied period of news and rumors. The NFL Draft is a key three-day cog in the league’s year-round hype machine and gets fans excited about the upcoming season nearly five months before it starts.
Even if the three players the Fire drafted on Thursday don’t turn into stars, or even solid contributors, Chicago soccer fans were given a day to think about soccer even when all they see outside their windows is a thick, cold layer of snow on the ground. That’s not such a bad thing.