Let’s just say there is a certain kind of sports writer. They refer to journalism school as “J school.” They love one-sentence paragraphs, talking about the Sacred Rules of the Holy Press Box, spending four days to write an 800 world article on something that isn’t a match report, and voting in Hall of Fame awards. And they love drafts.
The good thing is for reporters stuck on the soccer beat is that Major League Soccer has one. And it’s SUPER.
It’s that time again, when the entire US Soccer press corps descends on some Midwestern locale to see which club will pick which NCAA star first. The draft itself is preceded by a lot of amusing but ultimately insignificant speculation on who will go where. There is breathless talk of traded first round picks, allocation money, who Chivas USA will pick if their guy gets picked up by someone else, and—if you’re Canadian—a lot of puff pieces on Kyle Bekker. There are mock drafts.
I would say (without any solid evidence) it’s probably the most reported-on event in the MLS calendar, even exceeding the All Star game and the MLS Cup final. The real question for people who want their MLS team to win is does the draft matter?
Well, yes. It’s not rare for early picks in the draft to form the regular core of an MLS first team. Clubs aren’t exactly separated by a gulf in resources or playing ability, so one or two players might the tipping point. I’m all aboard the notion that the SuperDraft is a pretty big deal.
It’s for that reason that I’m always slightly flabbergasted in the paucity of real, empirical data on just what exactly each player might offer, beyond the few broad superlatives of writer who may have watched them a handful of times playing college ball. Part of that is because the meaningful data doesn’t exist for any footballers at the moment.
The persistence however—and some would say minor importance—of the MLS Combine, the series of training matches that precedes the draft, is alarming. That scouting directors are at all using such a small sample size to change or adjust their selection strategy, one that ideally should rest only on several seasons’ worth of data alone, puts the entire draft exercise into question.
Of course not all clubs rely much on their combine scouts, clubs like SC Kansas known to pay for involved player data. With the North American obsession with advanced sports statistics, the relative even playing field offered by the draft should be a golden opportunity to develop reliable NCAA player metrics for public consumption. Because the faster the average fan can look to data rather than platitudes to evaluate just who their club is considering, the faster we can neutralize the insane media parade that surrounds the damn thing.
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