CHICAGO – Several of the player speeches at the 2019 MLS SuperDraft on Friday moved the league's commissioner, Don Garber, who later revealed that the emotions of the day only strengthened his view and vision for what the January event represents for the league.
“I’m a big believer in it,” Garber said at the start of his media briefing between Rounds 1 and 2. “There always will be a role for young players who are not developed in our academies or are not purchased from abroad to have an opportunity to play in Major League Soccer. And that is what [the SuperDraft] is all about.”
Although it raised more than a few eyebrows in the lead-up to the SuperDraft when the Philadelphia Union made the unprecedented move to offload all five of their draft picks in a single trade – the Commissioner said he was intrigued by the buzz and conversation that ensued – Garber was steadfast about the long-term future of the SuperDraft.
He cited the players in the current US men's national team camp who were products of the SuperDraft, as well as the special moments witnessed at Friday's event – No. 2 pick Siad Haji told an emotional refugee story, while No. 6 pick Griffin Dorsey honored an 8-year-old boy battling an autoimmune disorder, whom Dorsey described as his inspiration for playing.
“Our league needs special moments. And our sport needs special moments. And this is a special moment to provide a young person,” Garber said. “I think these special moments are good for our sport.”
That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities for potential changes – Garber said the league was in discussions with the United Soccer Coaches about potentially hosting the draft in other cities not affiliated with the USC’s annual convention – or for room to improve the development of college players seeking a career in MLS.
The Commissioner pointed to the difficulty posed by the different set of soccer rules used in college, and expressed his hope that the NCAA, U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer can work together to ensure the college system continues to produce players equipped for potential professional careers.
On the player development theme, Garber also fielded a question about the future of MLS academy participation in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy as part of the league’s quest to continue to improve the talent emerging from its youth setups by providing “the best possible competitive environment.”
Those same MLS academies have recently seen several highly-touted products capture interest and transfer fees from European powers, including Alphonso Davies (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Chris Richards (FC Dallas) to Bayern Munich (reportedly), who while the contract of Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls) was sold to Red Bull Leipzig.
“We have to start seeing some return on [academy investments], or I can’t look an owner in the eye and say this makes sense,” Garber said about the $100 million a year in youth development funding by the league's owners. “This is not a philanthropy. This is about building the right type of environment to develop players that teams can find effective.”