The Re-Entry Draft in Retrospect

Thursday, December 16, 2010 | View Comments
by Jason Davis

If you blinked on Wednesday afternoon, you might have missed the second stage of the first-ever MLS Re-Entry Draft.  In the draft, MLS teams were able to obtain the rights to players who were either out of contract or had their option declined.  Teams now have seven days to extend "bona fide" offers to the players they selected - a few have already signed.

The names on the list, both those taken and those passed over, are interesting to say the least.  LA grabbed Juan Pablo Angel and will now need to find a way to fit him under their salary cap.  Chivas USA doesn't have a coach, but have veteran US international Jimmy Conrad to bolster their backline. Guillermo Barros Scheletto went undrafted, Jeff Cunningham is changing teams (again), Josh Wolff is headed to DC, and Fred might be continuing his travels up I-95.

For the fans of the teams who either bettered themselves or saw a beloved player depart in the draft, Wednesday's exercise just another step along the path to the 2011 season.  Winter is when MLS teams reload, revamp, rebuild, or comically trip over themselves on the player acquisition front.  For the players, it was something else entirely: the first go round on what amounts to a modicum of intra-league player movement.

When the League and the players were battling it out in boardrooms back in the early part of 2010 (remember that? Wasn't it fun?), "free agency" was on the list of the Union's demands.  It was never going to happen, of course, but they couldn't be faulted for asking.  MLS was built to withstand anti-trust suits, as we saw back in 2002, and short of going back to court, something that would benefit no one, the Players didn't stand a chance of getting total free agency within the League.

The Re-Entry Draft was the compromise.  It would prevent teams from holding hostage a player they clearly didn't want, as was the case with Kansas City and Kevin Hartman, but prevent the type of open market that would drive up salaries.  The two sides got creative while meeting in Washington, and engineered a way for an out-of-contract or option-declined player to move elsewhere while keeping competition for his services out of the equation.  No more holding a player without an active contract ad infinitum, but no bidding wars either.

The question now, is how effective this first attempt was.  It's difficult to tell at the moment, considering there are still offers to be made and contracts to be signed, but it seems most are reasonably happy with the results.  Players are getting fresh starts, second chances, the ability to move out of a bad or not-great situation and into a better one.  From no-longer-wanted to much-needed-help.  It's a small victory where such a thing wasn't previously possible.

Brian Dunseth expressed it from the player's end yesterday, and he did it well.

In a perfect world, an American-soccer-league-flush-with-cash world, the players would have total free agency.  When their contract was up with one team, they'd have the ability to go find a new one without the strange mechanism of a two-stage draft.  We're not there yet, or if you prefer, MLS isn't willing to fully let go of its control.  At least they've let up a little.

If MLS isn't careful, they'll have more drafts than teams before too long.  SuperDraft, Expansion Draft (expected through 2012), Re-Entry's more the "draft season" than the "off season."  With our heads fully spinning, it would be easy to moan about the ever-growing list of rules and regulations that make MLS difficult to understand.  But when it's this, a new open door on the player freedom front when we could just as easily have none at all, we should welcome it wholeheartedly.

Can we just do it a little slower next time?  How about a "game cast" of the picks as they happen on the MLS website?  A two minute break between picks to allow us to catch our breath?  It was all so...utilitarian.

That first one was a little rough.  A day later, and I'm still not entirely sure what happened.  All I know is that it's a step in the right direction.

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