The 2016 MLS SuperDraft is inching closer, and teams will be heading down to Florida to check out some of the top prospects at the adidas MLS Player Combine that begins Friday.
Every MLS team will be looking for players that can help contribute to their teams this year while also keeping an eye on the future, hoping a player they draft can develop into a starter down the line.
With the introduction of Homegrown Players, a higher salary budget and other player acquisition mechanisms, the vast majority of MLS teams have stopped relying on the SuperDraft as a means to bringing in Day 1 starters.
All you have to do is look at last season’s draft, when just three of the top 10 selections (Cyle Larin, Fatai Alashe, Matt Polster) managed to play more than 1,000 minutes for their clubs. This is not just a one-off occurrence, either; it’s an ongoing trend.
Going back to 2011, when teams first played a 34-game schedule, the minutes played by top-10 picks in their rookie seasons have fallen off every season.
The drop has coincided with full classes of players from MLS academies progressing through the college ranks, and MLS teams have signed 5-10 college players to Homegrown Player contracts in each of the last six years. This year's total of 10 academy players signed from the college ranks has already tied the 2013-14 offseason for the most players with college experience signed to HGP deals in one offseason. The six seniors signed is the most in one offseason in MLS history.
With that much talent taken out of the draft, the trend of diminishing minutes is not contained within the top 10: The total minutes played by SuperDraft picks have dropped across the board over the past several seasons.
Admittedly, it would be better to have a larger sample than the last five seasons, but the difference between 2011’s draft class and 2015’s is rather startling.
To try and keep it as uniform as possible, the numbers used below were for the first four rounds of every draft, which for some years includes the Supplemental Draft.
A problem with the above bar chart is that the number of total players drafted from 2011-15 has fluctuated a bit. In 2011, 72 players were drafted. In 2015, 84 players were selected. From 2012-14, the same number of players were picked: 76.
The chart below averages out the number of minutes played by SuperDraft selections, per capita, in their first season. There are some minor changes, but the big gap between 2011 and 2015 remains the same.
The SuperDraft is exciting for every fan, as your team adds a new player that will hopefully help your team win an MLS Cup some day. But temper your expectations for immediate contributions in 2016, especially if your team is picking outside of the top 10.