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What to know about today’s MLS Draft

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MLS can be a strange, convoluted place sometimes. We’re trying to add some clarity.

RSL general manager Craig Waibel
Matt Montgomery

Trying to navigate today’s MLS Draft? It’s not always easy. Here are some things you’ll want to know heading in, and maybe some things you never thought to ask.

Remind me again: What’s the draft?

The draft is where players who have finished their NCAA eligibility, or players who have ceded their college eligibility early, or players who MLS have deemed worthy of being on the list, can be selected by teams in reverse order of their finish.

Some of those players will already have signed contracts with MLS; others won’t have.

It hasn’t always just been college players. For instance, one year, Real Salt Lake drafted two professionals: Emiliano Bonfigli and Benjamin Ubierna. That’s not something the league always does, and it’s starting to look like maybe they won’t do it again.

Do we really need a draft?

I mean, you be the judge of that, but it’s one of the mechanisms by which teams can sign players to their roster. Without it, MLS would likely just come up with a new, convoluted way to sign players just finishing their college eligibility.

How terrifying that prospect is depends on whether you think the draft is just a little broken or really broken. I’m not sure where I fall.

You don’t have to sign your picks

If you bring in a player who trains with you and just doesn’t work out for one reason or another — and that happens — you don’t have to sign them to your roster. If they’re already signed by MLS, I assume there’s some sort of escape hatch for the league for their protection, but the club’s under no obligation.

In fact, don’t be surprised if most of RSL’s picks actually end up signing with our second division side, Real Monarchs. It’ll make more sense for the team.

You keep the rights to players you don’t sign

That’s right. If you draft a player and don’t come to an agreement with them to join your club, you keep their MLS rights for two years. You won’t typically see teams hold other teams hostage with rights, though, and there will be plenty of trading.

This rule is how Real Salt Lake was able to sign goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. He was drafted by the club, and they retained his rights — they signed him right on the cusp of his eligibility.

Draft eligibility can be nominated by a team

Ever wonder why some players just sort of fly under the radar, don’t go the MLS Combine, and still end up being selected? That’s because clubs can nominate players for draft eligibility. That’s likely why RSL was able to sign Sebastian Velasquez through the draft in 2012 — they were the only club after him, and they used the draft mechanism to bring him in. That way, they were able to keep him off their discovery list, which likely held more top-dollar signings.

Of course, there are other ways to sign players, but there are always complications there. MLS doesn’t exactly make this whole process easy.

The format shifts — a lot

While the order of selection has typically remained the same — it’s reverse finishing order — the league has gone through several iterations of the draft. Some years, they’ve had a Supplemental Draft in addition to a three-round SuperDraft, and that’s one where you get to draft players that almost certainly don’t end up playing.

Of course, you found some gems there, but it wasn’t really enough.

RSL has considered their homegrown signings their “top picks”

Perhaps outside of Omar Holness, the last few years of the MLS Draft have seen Real Salt Lake significantly more excited about homegrown signings than they have been about their draft picks — at least in some sense.

This year, it’s Jose Hernandez, who played at UCLA and was one of the best players on his team. That’s a team that includes several players who have been projected to go in the first ten picks of today’s draft.

In past years, we’ve been able to say that about Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, and Sebastian Saucedo — each was a top-rated pick out of college (like Allen after one year) or would have certainly been Generation Adidas players forgoing it.

Yeah, we’re doing alright at the academy.

Anything you still don’t know? Ask us in the comments! We won’t bite.