A Future Without a "Rookie Class"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 | View Comments
-Jason Davis

It has started, the Power Rankings, the "players to watch" columns, the random speculation, the attempts at clairvoyance and all the other typical flotsam that accompanies the first twitching movements of the new MLS season.

While viscerally rejecting the veracity of any Power Rankings done before teams even settle on their 30-man rosters, I don't mind the "players to watch" posts. Some of the names are somewhat obvious choices. Others involve a leap of faith and an expectation that the transition from amateur to professional will be handled with aplomb. The SuperDraft provides the league players we expect to see inserted into lineups either right away or soon enough to make an impact over the course of a long season. In other words, the new class of MLS rookies gets a lot of our attention.

It occurs to me, while the debate over the relevancy of the SuperDraft dies down now that the event itself has passed, that we'll probably lose something if and when there is no such thing as an MLS rookie class (at levels we're accustomed to, at least). In this case, one of quirks that makes MLS different from other leagues provides an exciting element we might take a bit for granted. Who doesn't love guessing which rookies will take the league by storm? Save those that become home grown signings after playing some college soccer (Matt Kassel) or play as youth internationals, it will be almost impossible to evaluate players brought through academies into the league.

There's no such thing as a rookie class in soccer league outside of America. The more this league becomes like every other league, the better the chances there won't be any such thing anywhere, including America.

If MLS charges down the academy highway far enough to make the draft nothing more than an alternate way for picking up a raw talent or squad player, or somehow develops enough of a pipeline to lead to the draft's demise altogether, we'll have only the occasional new player introductions to latch on to. Academy kids probably won't be entering the league ready to play in large groups. The term "rookie class" will cease have any real meaning.

It's probably not something we think of as positive of following MLS, but it's there. Waves of new blood are a staple of American sports, and Major League Soccer has been no exception over its history. There's a threat to the status quo now, and I can't help but wonder if we'll feel a little less excited about each new season if we don't have players likely to play right way making the jump from amateur to pro.

Thankfully, the death of the "rookie class' is far enough off that we can't see it from here.

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