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Similar to many American workers over the past 15 years, MLS players might be the only American athletes feeling the pinch of globalization. The Wall Street Journal’s headline this week basically sums up the problem with an article previewing the upcoming SuperDraft as “The Most Meaningless Draft in Sports.”
The SuperDraft is limping along like a dog on three legs. It used to be the premiere event in the American soccer world. With piggy-backing the event with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America conference, it was an opportunity for the industry to get together and advance the entire operation. The draft used to be 6 rounds with similar traditions to other, more well known, American college drafts. MLS draft picks would get their team scarf, shake the commissioner’s hand, and have a day to remember.
This week’s draft was only two rounds with the remaining drafts being done, by conference call, in the coming weeks.
Soccer is becoming more of a known commodity here in the states. While the MLS hasn’t seen a marked improvement in overall attendance America, more and more, is starting to watch the world game. Just turn on ESPN on Saturday mornings (around 7:30) and you’re likely to see a Premiereship Game.
To boost attendance, MLS teams are signing aging European talent the likes of David Beckham, Robbie Keene, and Thierry Henry…possibly Alessandro Del Piero not far behind (Although aging Henry clearly showed some top shelf quality with his return to Arsenal this week). These guys take up rosters spots. Spots that young, up-and-coming American talent could be occupying.
The Generation Addidas program isn’t helping the draft either. MLS Team Academies are signing players as young as 11 and 12 and doing everything they can to have them bypass the traditional system so they can start grooming them full time.
Listen, I think it’s a good thing. The American soccer culture is starting to mirror the industry average seen around the world. The result is we’re producing much better quality on a more consistent basis. In the not to distant future, America will gain an increasing slice of the global pie known as international soccer. We’ll export more quality players, gain more fans, get more people watching and I’m sure somebody will make a boatload of money in the process.
Personally I’d love to see some more top American quality in European leagues. I’m sure the European teams would too. With top American quality comes a top American consumer market. Networks buying the broadcast rights for games etc. Not to mention the U.S. National team making deeper runs in the World Cup every year. The Premiereship in particular has been one of the more forward thinking leagues in the world (along with the NBA and NFL) with thinking global. British teams have been burning the midnight oil trying to expand in to Asia. Even going so far as to make a strategic effort to develop and sign Asian talent.
Other than the NFL, I think the state of American soccer will be the most exciting sport to keep an eye on over the next 10-15 years. We’re starting to build our domestic system in a meaningful way. It won’t happen overnight and along the way there will be hiccups – like the increasing SuperDraft irrelevance.
But we’ll get there and when we do, ESPN will be there to help us watch.