As training camps ramp up over the next two weeks, several first-year players will be fighting for a chance to achieve their dreams and secure a spot on a professional side in MLS.
But for a small group of international players, the task is far more difficult than for the others. A handful of incoming MLS rookies came to the United States as students four years ago to play soccer while earning a college degree. But because of their international status, they must now prove to coaches and technical staffs they're worth of not only a roster spot, but also a highly valuable international slot as well.
Some players of this ilk – youngsters like Michael Boxall (Vancouver), Steven Beattie (Toronto), Dan Keat (Los Angeles) and Phil Bannister (Colorado) – find themselves selected in the Supplemental Draft. These four, for example, don’t have the luxury of a Generation adidas contract, and none has a signed deal with the league.
Now that these players have an idea of the international roster rules in MLS, they recognize the extra challenge they'll face trying to crack the MLS ranks.
“[Teams] don’t want to waste an international spot on someone who’s not even going to make the bench,” said Beattie, who hails from Ireland. “I think there is an added pressure, but they’re going to want to have impact players, and that’s what you have to do at the next level, be an impact straight away.”
[inline_node:326105]Because of roster rules, the international status of a 20-something player right out of college might count against them when it comes down to trimming a roster. There are 144 available international roster spots leaguewide, with most teams carrying between five and 10 international players on their roster.
But keeping one of those spots open could be valuable for a coach when on the hunt for a more experienced international signing who can make a splash immediately.
Projecting how any of these young players might cope in MLS is tricky – none were national stars in college, yet all have a decent skill set that could translate well at the next level.
And carrying a player like that as a reserve might not be the course of action coaches are eager to take. That raises the impetus on players like Boxall and Keat to put their best foot forward and show potential right away, or risk getting sent home before the season starts.
“I think that it does come with a certain pressure, because I suppose if the team wants to bring in another international, you’re kind of first in line to make room,” said Keat.
Still, past players have gone down this path and made the most of the opportunity. Perhaps none were more successful than Ryan Nelsen, a New Zealand international who came to MLS from the college ranks. He won an MLS Cup with D.C. United back in 2004 before moving on to Blackburn in the Premier League, and he represented the All Whites at last summer’s World Cup.
But can any of these youngsters make such a solid impression so early? Only time will tell. A unique challenge is certainly in front of them now, to which only a few can relate and a select group have overcome to carve out their career in MLS.