Any sportswriter will tell you that the offseason in MLS, or any other sport for that matter, is never really "off." Sure, there are no games, but the reality remains: Building a championship-winning team is a year-round process, with trades, drafts and overseas signings dominating the headlines as 19 teams gear up for another championship run, and it's sure fun to follow.
However, in recent years, one mechanism in particular has often been overlooked and underappreciated: the Re-Entry Draft. Sure, you'll likely never see a Donovan or a Kaká near a Re-Entry Draft list, but the process has proved invaluable to teams that have figured out how to use it to find value, and this year looks to be no exception.
Although some relatively big names have already come off the table this time around – largely due to the endeavor of Sporting Kansas City in acquiring the likes of Benny Feilhaber and Ike Opara – there are still plenty of useful players to be found in this year's Re-Entry Draft, especially if the last two years are any indication.
Since its inception of the process following the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Re-Entry Draft has served a two-fold process in allowing players who are out of contract or have had their options declined to more easily find new clubs while allowing teams to add depth and valuable contributors to their rosters.
Though not every team chooses to participate in the draft and many players still go unpicked, it can still be a useful tool in the arsenal of a front office. With that in mind, here are three of the players selected in the first two editions that have shown the worth of the Re-Entry Draft in different ways, along with a few comparisons of players who could provide similar value from this year's pool of players.
Marc Burch, Seattle Sounders, 2011
No team is going to find a world-beater in the Re-Entry Draft. But Burch's selection by the Sounders is the perfect example of a team finding a serviceable, MLS-caliber contributor who ended up being an excellent fit with his team.
The Sounders were set on Burch, so much so that they traded up in the Re-Entry Draft rankings – sending a 2014 draft pick to Vancouver – to ensure they landed him, and their faith was certainly justified.
As it turned out, the Seattle front office was spot on about what Burch could bring to their team. His steady defensive presence allowed him to collect 2,004 minutes on the field in 2012 (including playoffs), while also notching three assists for Sigi Schmid's team. Though his own mistakes cut his run of two straight playoff starts abruptly short, he was nonetheless an important cog in the league's second-best defense in 2012 and showed just how valuable the Re-Entry Draft can be if a team's front office can identify a perfect fit.
Clyde Simms, New England Revolution, 2011
If there was a such thing as a Re-Entry Draft MVP, it would be difficult to argue against Simms The 30-year-old midfielder proved to be a great match for New England in 2012, after the Revolution snatched him up from D.C. United in the 2011 Re-Entry Draft.
The MLS vet provided the Revs with a sound defensive presence in the midfield, starting in all 29 games he featured in, playing 2,303 minutes, notching an assist and providing a disciplined effort (two yellow cards and no reds) in the process.
Like many players in the Re-Entry Draft, you're not going to find someone who's going to put up gaudy attacking stats. But with a player like Simms, the Revolution found a player that can cover plenty of ground and provide a solid defensive presence in front of the back for and move the ball reasonably well, allowing the players in front of him – most notably Lee Nguyen – to flourish.
Josh Wolff, D.C. United, 2010
Wolff isn't necessarily on this list because of an outstanding statistical contribution – though he did total five goals and seven assists in the 2011 campaign – but largely because of the veteran presence he brought to a relatively young D.C. locker room, even as he struggled with injuries in 2012. His mentorship proved especially invaluable to Chris Pontius, who flourished with United upon his return from a devastating injury.
Even after his retirement at the end of the 2012 campaign, Wolff will stay with the team that selected him in the 2010 Re-Entry Draft, as he is set to join Ben Olsen's coaching staff full-time, a position where he can continue to mentor United's up-and-coming squad and work closely with his long-time international teammate.