Most of the scuttlebutt surrounding the upcoming SuperDraft has focused on which players will join the league as part of the Generation adidas program. Given the protections GA players enjoy and the difficulty in finding players who will contribute to the team that drafted them in the long-term, the focus makes sense.
Discussions about players who may or may not sign with the league are commonplace this time of year. With the rookie salaries on offer and the temptations of European play or continued college education may present, it isn't an open and shut case as to whether standout college players want to sign with MLS. Teams must add the player's willingness to sign with the league and the player's potential salary budget number into account when thinking about selecting the player.
Generation adidas adds yet another layer to the signing discussions. Like with most external player negotiations, MLS weighs the player's skills and the desires of teams around the league before determining whether the player would be a fit in the program. The low double-digit class – since 2004, the class has ranged between 10 and 13 members – earns a better salary than the standard rookie offer and additional perks given in an attempt to entice the players to sign.
In addition to extending perks to the players, MLS offer two critical benefits to teams in order to tempt them to select Generation adidas players in the SuperDraft: roster and salary cap protection. GA players do not count against the team's salary budget. In 2008 and previous seasons, GA players were given senior roster protection and counted against the developmental roster. Even with the elimination of the reserve league program and four developmental slots, senior roster protection is expected to remain in place ahead of the 2009 campaign.
The roster reshuffling places even more emphasis on obtaining possible salary-protected contributors through the draft. MLS has expanded the senior roster from 18 to 20 without a tangible bump in the salary budget. Non-GA draft picks – especially draft picks in the first couple of rounds – count against a team's budget and would likely take up a senior roster slot. Instead taking a hit on the senior roster, teams can lean towards Generation adidas players and preserve the roster and salary flexibility for more experienced players.
Favoring Generation adidas (or, prior to that, Project-40) isn't a new concept. Teams have increasingly favored roster-protected players because of the protections afforded those players. MLS has also tried to ink the most sought-after players to GA contracts to unite demand for roster-protected players with desirable players.
While teams have plenty of reasons to prefer Generation adidas players over non-protected college seniors, let me add one further reason: teams shouldn't waste salary budget and roster space on a player who isn't likely to be on the roster in three years.
A review of the past five SuperDrafts shows players tend to find their way off the rosters of the team who have drafted them in drastic numbers. The raw data included in the chart included at the end of the column – which may be impacted by factors that change from year to year – isn't as important as the trends indicated by it.
Finding a contributor who remains with his original club for the life of a standard four-year (1+1+1+1 with league options after each year) MLS deal remains an elusive task. Chad Marshall and Seth Stammler are the one club men from the 2004 SuperDraft, while only four players remain with their original clubs from the 2005 SuperDraft. Less than half of the first-round selections in the 2006 SuperDraft remain with their original sides. As one might expect, the numbers improve substantially for players selected in the past two SuperDrafts.
The probability of finding a contributor shrinks even further after the first round ends. Stammler (2004), Gonzalo Segares (2005) and Chris Rolfe (2005) are the only players selected after round one to remain with their clubs in the first two drafts. The hit rate hovers around 25% for those drafted in 2006 and 2007, while just above half remain on rosters from the 2008 SuperDraft. With the reduced roster slots, those numbers will drift even further downwards.
Even with the data presented, teams continue to swoon for the SuperDraft in hopes of finding the next Brad Guzan or Clint Dempsey. Draft picks are compiled because SuperDraft players are cheap to keep on the roster and can add some depth. When working with limited salary budgets, draft picks can be the best way to build a team if teams can successfully identify talent through the draft.
Building through the draft only works if teams can find consistent contributors and cannot do so on the open international market. As evidenced by last year's rookie class, reliable rookies are hard to find. More often than not, players have to stick around for a year or two before earning significant first team minutes.
With reduced roster sizes, the luxury of carrying players who may not contribute right away has diminished to a new low. Unless a team's coaching staff ardently believes a non-Generation adidas player will see instant playing time, the raw data and the circumstances suggest a Generation adidas signing should be the preferred option. At least in the likely event the player doesn't remain with the team in the long-term, the team won't detract from its senior roster in the short-term.
Players who remain with the team that originally drafted them in Rounds One-Four of the SuperDraft, 2004-2008
2004 1st Round (12 picks) -- 8%
1 remains with same team (Chad Marshall)
1 remains with same team, but not with original franchise (Ryan Cochrane)
1 sold by original team to Europe
4 total in Europe
2004 2nd-4th Rounds (36 picks) -- 3%
1 2nd through 4th round pick remains with same team (Seth Stammler -- 2nd round)
2005 1st Round (12 picks) -- 17%
2 remain with same team (Drew Moor, Troy Roberts)
1 sold by original team to Europe (Brad Guzan)
4 total in Europe
2005 2nd-4th Rounds (36 picks) -- 6%
2 2nd through 4th round picks remain with the same team (Chris Rolfe, Gonzalo Segares -- both 3rd round)
2006 1st Round (12 picks) -- 42%
5 remain with same team (Jason Garey, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Patrick Ianni, Calen Carr)
0 players in Europe
2006 2nd-4th Rounds (36 picks) -- 25%
9 2nd through 4th round picks remain with the same team (Lance Watson, Blake Wagner, Jacob Peterson, Dominic Oduro, Ray Burse, Jonathan Bornstein, Eric Kronberg, Michael Dello-Russo, Mike Chabala)
2007 1st Round (13 picks) -- 62%
8 players remain with the same team (Bakary Soumare, Michael Harrington, Chris Seitz, Wells Thompson, Nico Colaluca, Anthony Wallace, Amaechi Igwe, John Michael Hayden)
2 players sold by original team to Europe (Maurice Edu, Bryan Arguez)
2 total players in Europe
2007 2nd-4th Rounds (39 picks) -- 23%
9 2nd through 4th round picks remain with the same team (Dane Richards, Josh Tudela, Corey Ashe, Omar Cummings, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Mike Banner, Nick LaBrocca, Justin Hughes, Kurt Morsink)
1 player signed in Europe and later return to the team that drafted him (Greg Dalby)
2008 1st Round (14 picks) -- 79%
11 players remain with the same team (Chance Myers, Brek Shea, Tony Beltran, Sean Franklin, Ciaran O'Brien, Andy Iro, Patrick Nyarko, Josh Lambo, Roger Espinoza, Rob Valentino, David Horst)
1 unsigned player went to Europe (Dominic Cervi)
2008 2nd-4th Rounds (42 picks) -- 52%
22 remain with the same team (Shea Salinas, Alex Nimo, Eric Avila, George Josten, Ely Allen, Ricardo Pierre-Louis, Jonathan Leathers, Peter Lowry, Joe Germanese, Brian Edwards, Julian Valentin, Luke Sassano, Ryan Cordeiro, Brendan Tennelle, Matt Marquess, Geoff Cameron, Keith Savage, David Roth, Brandon McDonald, Steven Lenhart, Raushawn McKenzie, Austin Washington)
1 player signed in Europe and then returned to same team (Michael Videira)
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently produces other opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com.