CHICAGO — The days leading up to Friday’s MLS SuperDraft featured plenty of discussions that the draft is losing its meaning, especially with league members signing college athletes ahead of the draft via the homegrown player rule.
Commissioner Don Garber has heard and read about that discussion. And he is here to disagree.
“As I’ve listened to some of these young men talking about growing up and wanting to play in our league and dream about that as a younger player — whether they are kids who are growing up here in our country or kids from across the world — it makes me feel that much stronger that there is a role for this draft,” Garber said Friday at McCormick Place after the first round ended.
Garber said there will be a draft again next year. The key to improving it, he said, is figuring out how potential draft picks can get the right opportunity and ensure those selected can have successful MLS careers. And the draft also acts as a spotlight.
“Our league needs special moments, and our sport needs special moments,” Garber said. “And this is a moment to provide a young person the opportunity to stand up there (at the podium after being selected) and thank his family, thank his coaches, support the youth system they came out of, not just the colleges that they graduated from into our league.”
Garber could point to FC Cincinnati’s first-round selections as proof of those moments. No. 1 overall draft pick Frankie Amaya said his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.
“It was a hard journey for them,” Amaya said. “Thankfully I was born in the U.S., so my life was a bit easier than theirs.”
Logan Gdula, FC Cincinnati’s selection as the 13th pick, gave an emotional speech at the podium, saying “we weren’t supposed to be here,” alluding to himself and his mother. Gdula said his mother had him at 18, dropped out of college and worked three jobs to help him play soccer.
The influx of cash MLS has provided in recent years is a common citation provided for those who say the draft is losing meaning. Also the homegrown mechanism develops players earlier on, FC Cincinnati technical director Luke Sassano told Cincinnati Soccer Talk on Thursday. Some of the most prominent college athletes commit to their homegrown team ahead of the draft.
Sassano said the lack of a homegrown presence was part of what drove FC Cincinnati to trade to get all five of the Philadelphia Union’s picks in a trade earlier this week.
A reporter suggested to Garber on Friday morphing the homegrown signings into the SuperDraft to boost the homegrown public relations value. Garber said he thinks it’s a good idea.
Tinkering with TAM?
Garber also said with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Jan. 31, 2020, MLS is considering changing targeted allocation money and other salary budget mechanisms. They’ll be evaluating their options throughout the year.
“How are we going to restructure our salary budgets, those strategic initiatives like designated players and different types of TAM to determine how could we have the rosters — the right kind of players — to have the best kind of product that would allow us to be able to achieve our goals?” Garber said.