Climbing the Ladder: Passing of a generation in MLS

It’s hard to imagine an MLS season without longtime stalwarts such as Jimmy Conrad and Andy Williams, both of whom recently announced their retirements. Both debuted in a time where the stability of the league was in doubt, forging ahead without today’s soccer specific stadiums and increased media coverage. It’s an inevitable reminder of just how long Major League Soccer has been around.

MLS: Active Shootout Era Players
Chris Albright, Joe Cannon, Ramiro Corrales, Jeff Cunningham, Simon Elliott, Kevin Hartman, Frankie Hejduk, Daniel Hernandez, Tyrone Marshall, Pablo Mastroeni, Matt Reis, Greg Sutton, Zach Thornton, Josh Wolff

The number of players from the 1990s still plying their trade in MLS is dwindling, with only 14 current players remaining who played in the shootout era, and even fewer who’ve never played elsewhere. The youngest of the 14 is Chris Albright, who turns 33 next month.

Half were involved in the just-completed Re-Entry Draft. Joe Cannon and Greg Sutton elected to sign new contracts with their respective Canadian teams, while Frankie Hejduk’s rights were retained by the LA Galaxy after being chosen in the second stage. However, the futures of Albright, Jeff Cunningham, Simon Elliott and Zach Thornton are up in the air after going unpicked.

Jaime Moreno’s retirement a year ago meant that there were no more players who had played in every single MLS season, but Thornton’s status is notable as the only player who has been on an MLS roster every season since 1996. The two-time Goalkeeper of the Year signed with Benfica of Portugal after 2003, but returned to MLS right before the end of the '04 season. There are two others remaining who saw action in the league’s inaugural season: Ramiro Corrales and Hejduk.

Outside of those three, it appears that the only other ‘96ers still playing professionally anywhere are Brad Friedel with Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League and Petter Villegas with the Puerto Rico Islanders in the NASL.

All-conference honors the norm among SuperDraft picks

The 2011 NCAA soccer season has come and gone, with the favored North Carolina Tar Heels winning their second national title on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over UNC Charlotte. The Hermann Trophy winner won’t be named until next month, but all of the conference-specific honors were announced as the tournament began.

As it turns out, those awards do mean something: It’s not easy for a player to come out of nowhere to be selected in the SuperDraft. The vast majority of drafted players will be found in those all-conference teams.

Over the past five years, 86 percent of players drafted from Division I schools had been named to one of their all-conference teams in the preceding season (not including honorable mention and all-freshman selections). Those who went without honors amount to a total of 36 players, or about seven per year, who were drafted despite not making an all-conference team the year before.

The 2011 SuperDraft, in which seven such players were taken, followed that trend. Four didn’t make a roster, while Bilal Duckett and Demitrius Omphroy were waived after the season. Only Seattle’s Michael Tetteh remains in the league, although that’s not exactly a fair comparison with the others as he was an underclassman signed through the Generation adidas program. Excluding GA players such as Sean Johnson and Anthony Wallace, there were 31 players drafted over the past five years who entered MLS without being named to an all-conference team.

There have been a few success stories, most notably Corey Ashe and Wells Thompson. However, it’s not as if those two were unknown. Ashe, out of North Carolina, had made an all-ACC team in a previous year. Wake Forest’s Thompson never made one, but was invited to the MLS Combine. Out of those 31 remaining players, 10 (including Ashe) had made a Division I all-conference team at some point. That leaves 17 who hadn’t, of which 10 were Combine invites.

That means there are only seven players in the past five seasons who have been drafted despite never making an all-conference team and not being invited to the Combine. Only one remains in the league: Steven Beitashour of San Jose. Two formerly saw action: Jordan Graye with D.C. United and Houston, and Matt Marquess with Kansas City.

Montero the leading scorer for all competitions

WATCH: Montero’s beauty against Whitecaps

D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario won the MLS Golden Boot this past season, but if the award was given out for all competitions rather than just the regular season, he would’ve finished tied for second. Seattle’s Fredy Montero added three goals in both the CONCACAF Champions League and the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup to finish with 18 across the board.

It might seem like a common occurrence based on team’s varying success, but that’s only the fourth time the Golden Boot winner hasn’t also led or tied for the lead in all competitions. The last such instance was back in 2005, when Taylor Twellman scored 17 in the regular season to lead the league.

He didn’t net in any non-league games, however, so he was overtaken by the Galaxy duo of Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez. Just like the team itself, both saved their best form for the playoffs and Open Cup to finish with 18 goals apiece.

The Golden Boot wasn’t awarded before 2005, as MLS gave out a scoring champion award instead. For those unfamiliar, it was awarded based on points. A goal was worth two and an assist was worth one. However, if it had existed, Brian Ching and Jason Kreis would’ve won in 2004 and 1999, respectively, via the first tiebreaker, assists.

In all competitions, a four-way tie would’ve emerged in 2004 ahead of Ching. The group ahead of the burly forward would have been composed of Davy Arnaud, Alecko Eskandarian, Eddie Johnson and Damani Ralph. In 1999, Stern John and Roy Lassiter tied Kreis for the regular season lead with 18 goals. Columbus’ John surpassed the other two with 25 in all competitions, including five in five playoff games.