By Chris Smith.
All of the above serves to maintain a level of parity almost unmatched around the globe but arguably the most charming and intriguing quirk MLS has to offer is the draft system.
Widely used by other American sports, such as basketball and hockey, the SuperDraft has been a staple part of the MLS calendar for 20 years and truly sets the league apart from the rest of the world.
While outsiders may frown, it is a concept that offers youngsters a route into the professional game where they would otherwise fall between the cracks — as outlined by former Manchester United and Brazil midfielder, Kleberson.
“The new draft system will help create more competition in teams and will allow more players to have the chance to play in big stadiums every week,” Kleberson — who is now a coach with the Philadelphia Union academy — told WFi.
“This will help young players stay involved in the clubs, rather than leaving to go to college and then come back. If they stay in a professional environment at their clubs, they will benefit a lot more.”
Recent editions of the SuperDraft have seen the likes of Miles Robinson and Julian Gressel be picked up by Atlanta United, Jeremy Ebobisse join the Portland Timbers, and Cristian Roldan move to the Seattle Sounders.
Three of the four players above have picked up MLS Cup winner’s medals within the last two seasons, while Ebobisse scored 11 MLS goals in what was a real breakthrough 2019 campaign. Each are now key players for three of the biggest clubs in the United States and perfectly illustrates the potential beauty of the draft system.
But while the likes of Robinson and Roldan have been unmitigated successes for their clubs and have gone on to become regulars at international level, Kleberson maintains that every club enters the draft looking for the “next Christian Pulisic”.
It goes without saying that Pulisic is the star of the USMNT and, having finally found his feet at Chelsea after moving from Dortmund over the summer, his profile is increasing.
Kleberson believes that unearthing a gem of this magnitude would not only enhance the profile of the draft system and take it to the next level but MLS as a whole — a league he believes focuses too much slow build-up play at the back and not enough on explosive, direct attackers.
“There are a lot of young players out there that would be good in MLS, but the challenge for the league is trying to find a player like Christian Pulisic,” he added.
“A player who is very technical and quick, and who likes to go forward.
“The problem in MLS is that they focus on defenders and moving the ball forward slowly rather than trying to find quick and skilful attackers. I would like to see more players like Pulisic play in MLS. That would be exciting.”
MLS clubs are now organising their rosters for the 2019 season and with the Union deciding to decline on contract options for the likes of Marco Fabian and Haris Medunjanin, manager Jim Curtin now has a huge creative hole to fill for 2020.
But Kleberson believes now might be the perfect time for the club to seek out this Pulisic-esque winger in the draft, opening up more exciting attacking options out wide for Curtin.
“One position Philadelphia Union needs to improve on is the wingers,” the Brazilian said.
“It [the SuperDraft] could be a good opportunity to bring in some young players to give them the chance to get first-team experience. If they get an opportunity, it will help them develop for the future.”
Whether or not the 2020 Superdraft will bring a new, budding superstar to the Union or any other MLS team remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that the appetite for this unique, wholly American concept is high among those within the industry,
The draft system may give MLS an even more peculiar look to outsiders of the league, but it offers a clear pathway into the professional game for youngsters, allows clubs with tighter financial restraints to make gains in the market, and maintains that all-important parity upon which the league is built.