Drafts 101

Falastur

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So these drafts then. What are they?

Drafts are a system used across a wide range of major US sports - though virtually unheard of outside of the USA - for allocating players to a team. As America has far less club involvement in developing young players than in many parts of the globe, and due to the way that contracts with players are technically held by the league itself, not the individual clubs, this has engendered a situation where each club frequently needs to refresh its line-up of "squad players" - those players who are not the club's stars but instead are rising talents making their breakthrough or are journeyman players who are there to fill in gaps in the squad and support the first-choice players. The draft system serves to let every club top up its squad in a simple, practical and cheap way.

So how do they work?

The format of the draft is, in principle, fairly straightforward. Before the draft begins, there will be a pool of players, all known to the clubs involved. Each club is given an equal amount of picks, though clubs are allowed to exercise a "pass" and waive their chance to pick a player - any club which exercises a pass is considered to have concluded business and may not rejoin the player selection later in the draft. A notable exception is the Expansion Draft, which can only be entered by brand new franchises, and which I will return to later.

Obviously, picks can only be made one at a time. That means teams have to be given an order of precedence in their picks. This isn't random - in order to balance up the league to a degree, the teams which performed worst in the previous season are given priority the following season. The order goes:

1) Teams which didn't qualify for the MLS Cup knock-outs the previous season
2) Teams knocked out in the MLS Cup knock-out round
3) Teams knocked out in the MLS Cup conference semi-finals
4) Teams knocked out in the MLS Cup conference finals
5) The MLS Cup runner-up
6) The MLS Cup winner

For tiers 1-4, where there are multiple teams for each tier, teams are ordered by points scored the previous season, with the lowest points always receiving preference.

With the order determined, and possible player picks scouted and reviewed, the teams sit down, wait their turns, and choose one player every round until either all the rounds are finished, or every pickable player has been drafted or rejected, depending on the draft. Those players will then join their new teams for the start of the upcoming season.

But I heard some clubs got two picks in one round last time?

This is true. While the teams are ordered by performance last season, they are allowed to trade their picks with other teams. They can trade them for other picks in the same draft - not necessarily for the same season - picks in other drafts, wage cap allocation money or for other players. Trades can even be conditional, depending on future performance (and therefore, team pick ranking). This means some teams can end up with multiple picks in the same round.

So what are the different drafts, then?

There have been a number of different drafts in the past, though arguably only four are considered "active" now. They are as follows:

The SuperDraft:

This is the big one each season - the one that attracts the most publicity and draws the most excitement from the fans. The SuperDraft technically has four rounds and allows clubs to select a mixture of the top college talents, Generation Adidas professional youths, academy drop-outs and pro players from the USL, though occasionally part of this pick is split off into a Supplemental Draft (see below). This is each club's most notable way of sourcing the very best youngsters to break through into senior football, though in recent years the rise of European-style academies has placed less importance on the SuperDraft compared to developing talent through the club system.

The SuperDraft typically takes place in mid-January, and is the harbinger of the new season.

The Supplemental Draft:

Kid brother to the SuperDraft, the Supplemental Draft is essentially for players who have passed the point of eligibility as a college pick, and usually are already playing for local teams having left their university. The Supplemental Draft exists in parallel with the SuperDraft, being used when MLS chooses to split the college players from those outside the college system, and was in fact not run in 2014, though considering the Supplemental Draft has already been done away with on no fewer than three times in the last twenty seasons, we may well see its return again soon.

In recent years the Supplemental Draft has run over four, or occasionally three, rounds, and when it is run the SuperDraft tends to be shortened to only two rounds. It takes place around a week after the SuperDraft.

The Re-Entry Draft:

The Re-Entry Draft is a recent innovation, introduced to MLS in only 2010. However, before I launch into how the Re-Entry Draft works, first a quick overview of how player contracts work in MLS.

In MLS, players are technically contracted to the league and simply loaned to a club. In this respect, MLS acts as almost an employment agency for the players it hosts. For this reason, players cannot be bought off other teams, as no teams own their players; they can only be traded via the league itself as the contracting body. When players sign for a club, they sign for a set amount of years, often with a certain number of optional years where the club and player between them can decide whether to renew the player's term at the club for a further one-year stint. This allows clubs to keep hold of their star players, while also allowing players the freedom to leave their club at the end of each season assuming a certain period of time has been served with the club.

Now, on the Re-Entry Draft - the RED was introduced at the behest of the Players' Union in response to a previous rule where clubs could hold a temporary exclusivity on resigning players who had come to the end of their contracts. Under the terms of the RED, teams are able to pick other teams' players to sign on for the new season, although eligibility rules dictate which players are viable - players under certain ages with only a short period served in the league are not available to be drafted, for example, allowing teams some rights over their players. Players who have not yet reached their first option to renew with their current club are also unavailable to draft.

The RED is a multi-stage draft, and operates in the following way:

Stage 1 - In Stage 1, clubs may pick a player satisfying the conditions for drafting from one of their opponents' squads; they cannot pick their own players. If they pick a player they must extend a contract offer to him. The player is free to reject the contract, though if he does so the club which drafted him retains a period of exclusivity over him.

After Stage 1 there is an interlude, where clubs are free to extend new contract offers or renewals to their own out-of-contract players. They may also trade players to other clubs.

Stage 2 - Stage 2 begins a week after Stage 1. Stage 2 operates much as the previous stage, though clubs are not obliged to immediately make a contract offer, and they may pick their own players (thus gaining exclusivity), though only after those players have been passed over by other clubs. Clubs are then free to spend seven days negotiating with their picks before offering a contract. If a player rejects a contract then they join a pool of players who can be freely drafted by any club, although the club which originally drafted them retains the right of First Option (whereby, if the player if offered a contract by another club, they must first reject one on exactly the same terms from the drafting club).

The RED takes place in mid-December each season, and serves as a nice book-end to the year.

The Expansion Draft:

Now this is the big one for NYCFC. The Expansion Draft is only open for new franchises, as a way of filling their squad quickly. This is done at the expense of the other teams in the league - inevitably, the more teams join, the lesser impact it will have on each club. Thankfully for the established teams, there are some rules on which players can be drafted and which can't. Players can be made ineligible for drafting in a number of ways:

- Each established team is able to select 11 players to be "protected" from drafting.
- Designated Players generally are considered exempt and need not be protected to be kept
- "Homegrown" (i.e. academy product) players who do not form part of the main 20 squad players (under wage cap rules) are automatically exempt
- Designated Generation Adidas players are automatically exempt.

Following each established team specifying their protected players to MLS, the new franchise - or franchises - then select 10 players (each) to draft from the other teams, although to prevent a single club from being gutted by the Draft, a further rule states that if a club sees two of its players drafted to a new franchise, the rest of their "exposed" players are automatically made exempt and their squad is essentially removed from consideration. In cases where two or more sides join MLS in the same season, an order is established between them, and then they alternate picks in that order until each new franchise has drafted ten players.

The Expansion Draft generally takes place in late November, giving new franchises plenty of time to arrange to fill in the rest of the squad spaces.
 
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Falastur

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Phew! That was a long read!

Yes, it was. Let's just say that I started writing this around three hours ago. Hopefully it doesn't take that long to read.

To finish off then, what were the other drafts you hinted at earlier?

A few drafts have been operated a handful of times but discontinued. Some may potentially be seen again, others are finished for good. They don't deserve an awful lot of consideration, but they are the following:

The Inaugural Draft - it should probably be fairly obvious what this was. The Inaugural Draft saw a pool of players selected by the MLS for its very first season be divided amongst the founding clubs of the league.
The College Draft - back before the SuperDraft was the SuperDraft, there was an entirely separate draft for players entering the league from college. This was merged with the Supplemental Draft in 2000 to make the SuperDraft, which has since also had Generation Adidas players added to it.
The Contraction Draft - this is what happens when a franchise is disbanded and not replaced. This has only happened once - in 2002, when Florida clubs Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny both were closed down. The Contraction Draft actually consists of two drafts - the Allocation Draft and the Dispersal Draft. In the Allocation Draft, clubs with spare allocation slots in their wage budget could pick players from the outgoing teams. In the Dispersal Draft, players not picked in the Allocation Draft were then offered up to teams as off-budget players.

And that's it. There is your whistle-stop tour through the drafts of Major League Soccer. I'm sure I've missed something somewhere, but hopefully this has taught you all about how the drafts work, and what NYCFC can expect in future.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reply and I am perfectly willing to add or modify sections if necessary.
 
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413Blue

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Great job!

I am unable to find concrete information on this, but I believe in past expansion drafts that established clubs were also able to remove one player from the unprotected pool if they had one drafted.
Another note for the SuperDraft: NYCFC and Orlando will almost definitely pick 1st and 2nd in each round next year.
 
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Falastur

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Great job!

I am unable to find concrete information on this, but I believe in past expansion drafts that established clubs were also able to remove one player from the unprotected pool if they had one drafted.
Another note for the SuperDraft: NYCFC and Orlando will almost definitely pick 1st and 2nd in each round next year.

Ah yeah, I'd meant to add that but I forgot. I would fix that right now, but since it's gone 2am, I think I'll leave it for tomorrow morning.

Thanks for the heads-up anyway. I'll have to look into the protected player thing.
 

Scott McCarthy

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Great job!

I am unable to find concrete information on this, but I believe in past expansion drafts that established clubs were also able to remove one player from the unprotected pool if they had one drafted.
Another note for the SuperDraft: NYCFC and Orlando will almost definitely pick 1st and 2nd in each round next year.

I'm not 100% certain on this, but I think it will be that between NYC FC & Orlando City, whoever obtains the #1 pick in the SuperDraft, the other team will have the #1 Pick in the Expansion draft, and the other team will get the #2 pick in both.

Also, how will Orlando City be handled, since they already have a roster?
 

einwindir

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I'm not 100% certain on this, but I think it will be that between NYC FC & Orlando City, whoever obtains the #1 pick in the SuperDraft, the other team will have the #1 Pick in the Expansion draft, and the other team will get the #2 pick in both.

Also, how will Orlando City be handled, since they already have a roster?
The current Orlando roster are USL players right? So unless their roster is made up of MLS contracted players they will need to go through with the expansion draft as well.
 
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Section1Guy

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I'm not 100% certain on this, but I think it will be that between NYC FC & Orlando City, whoever obtains the #1 pick in the SuperDraft, the other team will have the #1 Pick in the Expansion draft, and the other team will get the #2 pick in both.

Also, how will Orlando City be handled, since they already have a roster?

The current Orlando roster are USL players right? So unless their roster is made up of MLS contracted players they will need to go through with the expansion draft as well.

Orlando City has five players from their team currently signed to MLS deals for next year. I'm guessing that's all they'll take from that team. They'll add their 2-3 DPs, and then the two drafts.
 
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Falastur

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I'm not 100% certain on this, but I think it will be that between NYC FC & Orlando City, whoever obtains the #1 pick in the SuperDraft, the other team will have the #1 Pick in the Expansion draft, and the other team will get the #2 pick in both.

Also, how will Orlando City be handled, since they already have a roster?

They will be entered into the drafts regardless. However, every club has the right to pass and simply not pick any players, or to stop picking half-way through. I would imagine that they will take a few players (unless they are trying to entirely fill their squad by themselves) and then leave after only one round.

It's something else I'll have to look into, though.
 
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Numz15

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They will be entered into the drafts regardless. However, every club has the right to pass and simply not pick any players, or to stop picking half-way through. I would imagine that they will take a few players (unless they are trying to entirely fill their squad by themselves) and then leave after only one round.

It's something else I'll have to look into, though.




Im still not really sure how a team can I guess "buy" players. For example, if we put a bid to Sporting KC for Zusi, and they accept it, is he ours? or do we go to the league and ask permission, or trade?
 

D_RoyJenkins

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Im still not really sure how a team can I guess "buy" players. For example, if we put a bid to Sporting KC for Zusi, and they accept it, is he ours? or do we go to the league and ask permission, or trade?
For your example SKC could trade Zusi to us for allocation money. That would basically be the MLS version of a transfer fee
 

Falastur

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Im still not really sure how a team can I guess "buy" players. For example, if we put a bid to Sporting KC for Zusi, and they accept it, is he ours? or do we go to the league and ask permission, or trade?

I intended to cover this in the Salary Cap/Roster 101, which I haven't written yet.

Sufficed to say, my current understanding of it is this:

There are three types of transfers in MLS, and that's not including players gained through drafts or via the academy system.

1 - Players transferred between MLS clubs. AFAIK there can be no fees for these transfers. Since all players technically have their contract with the league, not the clubs, it's a bit like buying a book, and then trying to sell it to your wife once you've read it. You just wouldn't - the book is owned by the family, and the player is owned by the league. Transfers between MLS clubs, AFAIK, can only be done through the trade system, which is addressed above.

2 - Buying a DP from outside the league. If you want to do this, you basically make your intentions known to the league, stating how much you intend to pay and how they will fit into your team (they may not use up more than an arbitrary amount for the salary cap, but they do count as part of the 20 allotted senior player places on the roster). You also suggest the salary you wish to offer. The league will then do all the negotiating themselves, and will usually ask you to recoup the costs, although if the league really wants a player (read: they play for the USMNT) then they might offer to pay the fee themselves just to get them on TV. Occasionally this also causes the sale to fall through, too, as I'm sure I have heard of MLS scuppering deals by being more stingy with their money than the buying club would have been.

3 - Buying a non-DP from outside the league. Very similar to above, but with an added catch. When DPs are bought, they come with an immunity from entering the allocation process. Non-DPs do not. They have to be assigned to teams via allocation, which is essentially a draft process meaning that other teams can sneak in and steal the player (also having to pay the transfer fee), forcing the buying club to gamble on whether to trade for higher ranking in the allocation draft.

It's a complicated issue - especially the allocation stuff - and one I'll have to research a fair bit more before I'm ready to post on it. It doesn't help that some of this stuff the league keeps quiet on, for no apparent reason. But this is the gist of it.
 

Numz15

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I intended to cover this in the Salary Cap/Roster 101, which I haven't written yet.

Sufficed to say, my current understanding of it is this:

There are three types of transfers in MLS, and that's not including players gained through drafts or via the academy system.

1 - Players transferred between MLS clubs. AFAIK there can be no fees for these transfers. Since all players technically have their contract with the league, not the clubs, it's a bit like buying a book, and then trying to sell it to your wife once you've read it. You just wouldn't - the book is owned by the family, and the player is owned by the league. Transfers between MLS clubs, AFAIK, can only be done through the trade system, which is addressed above.

2 - Buying a DP from outside the league. If you want to do this, you basically make your intentions known to the league, stating how much you intend to pay and how they will fit into your team (they may not use up more than an arbitrary amount for the salary cap, but they do count as part of the 20 allotted senior player places on the roster). You also suggest the salary you wish to offer. The league will then do all the negotiating themselves, and will usually ask you to recoup the costs, although if the league really wants a player (read: they play for the USMNT) then they might offer to pay the fee themselves just to get them on TV. Occasionally this also causes the sale to fall through, too, as I'm sure I have heard of MLS scuppering deals by being more stingy with their money than the buying club would have been.

3 - Buying a non-DP from outside the league. Very similar to above, but with an added catch. When DPs are bought, they come with an immunity from entering the allocation process. Non-DPs do not. They have to be assigned to teams via allocation, which is essentially a draft process meaning that other teams can sneak in and steal the player (also having to pay the transfer fee), forcing the buying club to gamble on whether to trade for higher ranking in the allocation draft.

It's a complicated issue - especially the allocation stuff - and one I'll have to research a fair bit more before I'm ready to post on it. It doesn't help that some of this stuff the league keeps quiet on, for no apparent reason. But this is the gist of it.


My god is this complicate haha....Its so much simpler in Europe. But I do understand that its in place to keep the league safe. That was a very well put answer but Im afraid i'll have to read it a few more times haha.
 

Falastur

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Yeah, it's not an easy thing to get your head around. A lot of the rules aren't just there to protect the league, too, they're supposedly there to protect the individual clubs, too - to stop any team from getting an unmatchable advantage while also encouraging youth development and so on.
 

Trone

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I will be looking forward to the day that the MLS is established enough to move away from the single entity. I hope that is the long term. I understand its use now but in the future it will be severely limiting assuming the league continues to grow
 

MagnusPax

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What type of player do you think Reyna, Kreis and NYC will go after? Obviously some teams (RSL) have huge targets on their roster. Will Kreis just go for who he knows, best available or just for youth?

My guess is they will go for vets that can start and youth that have potential. Who that is, hard to tell.
 

flightless

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Thanks for posting this up. Complicated old system, but I can see the appeal of the stability and the balancing act it does.

I have a few questions if anyone has the time.

Reading the above, I can see NYCFC will get the following:
  • 3 designated players
  • 10 players through the Expansion Draft
  • 4 players through the Super Draft (assuming 1st pick?)
So that makes 17 players. What is the squad limit in MLS?

In addition to these 17, am I correct in thinking there'll be some players through the Re-entry draft. Is there a limit to the number of these?

Then finally, as if there hasn't been enough questions, how does the signing of Generation Adidas players work and what the rules around Homegrown academy player registration? Is there a minimum time they need to have been trained for etc?

I'm basically trying to get my head around how the team will be comprised from the various sources etc...
 

Falastur

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OK, taking this point by point:

1 - The squad limit is 30, though you don't have to use them all up. Squads consist of 20 senior players + 10 youths (under-25). You must have 18 senior players, you can opt to have a full 20. You don't have to have all 10 youths - I don't actually know what the minimum limit is. Something to look into, I guess.

2 - I'm not actually aware of a limit to use of the Re-Entry Draft. As far as I'm aware, it keeps going until all teams have passed (elected not to pick a player in a round, thus effectively removing themselves from the rest of the draft). Also, there are two phases to the Re-Entry Draft, as detailed above, so you get a second shot with the left-over players if you realise you still have holes in your squad. Still, most of the Re-Entry Draft players are the older players, or ones who are perhaps better suited to a lower level of competition, so many players will simply not be picked. It's really a bit of a desperation move to pluck more than one or two players from the draw, bearing in mind that the odd gem hidden in the pack will be found and drafted rapidly.

More players can be signed from outside the league by asking MLS to sign them. If they aren't DPs, though, they go into an Allocation system whereby other players get a shot at signing your targets, though, but there is plenty of chance to stock your squad with the requisite number of players. I don't think NYCFC will be short-staffed. If you find youth players from outside the SuperDraft, too, and if you scout those youths you get a certain level of protection to avoid them being "stolen" from you by other teams, so I'd imagine NYCFC will probably try to locate 2-3 local youths to fill in their squad. They may not need to, though. 30 players is quite a large squad for a team which will play virtually that same amount of games.

3 - I don't know how much you know about American sports, but their Draft system revolves around the idea that kids are trained not by youth academies, but by the (admittedly very competitive) college system, where you play for your University team and study academically as you do so. However, in recent years MLS has come to admit that the academy system actually gives players an advantage by getting them playing professionally at the highest level at far younger ages. Generation Adidas exists to give the very best kids a fast-track straight into the SuperDraft without completing their college courses. They also get other benefits, such as being exempt from certain Drafts which involve teams picking players right out of the squads of their rivals, and also they get a scholarship "in reserve" in case their career stalls and they decide they need to retire and enter the world of 9-5 work.



The majority of this stuff is all going to happen around November-December time, so there's plenty of time for the newspapers to publish stories about how they think the line-up may look. Plenty of time to take it all in.
 
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Trone

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I was looking at the 2011 expansion draft and of the 10 players selected only 2 ended up playing for Montreal. Some were immediately traded back to their former team for allocation money and others were traded for draft picks. I can defintely see NYC FC trying to select players that teams dont want to lose and trading them back for allocation money to buy down their cap hits. I wouldnt expect to get even close to 10 players from the expansion draft
 

Trone

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I would add to point number two above that teams keep a discovery list and can protect 10 players who are new to MLS at time from entering the allocation system
 

Falastur

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I would add to point number two above that teams keep a discovery list and can protect 10 players who are new to MLS at time from entering the allocation system

True, though I believe the Discovery List can only be used on young players, so you can't exactly use it to cheat on signing top-class talent you've somehow got under the squad cap.