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Understanding MLS: The SuperDraft

This is the first in a series in which I will attempt to break down some of the intricacies and shed light on the grey area within MLS. We're starting with the SuperDraft because it's now three days away (But who's counting?)

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The MLS SuperDraft will take place on January 14th in Baltimore, Maryland. This will be the 16th year of the draft as it was created by merging the supplemental draft with the college draft. This has created a prototypical entry draft and the easiest comparison is the NFL Draft. The draft consists of four rounds. Each team is assigned a pick according to their finish in the prior season. The breakdown is shown below:

Status Draft Picks
Expansion Club(s) 1-2
Non-Playoff Clubs 3-10
Eliminated in Knockout Round 11-12
Eliminated in Conference Semifinals 13-16
Eliminated in Conference Championships 17-18
MLS Cup Finalist 19
MLS Cup Winner 20

As you can see by the table above, the top picks go to any expansion teams and the order is determined by a coin flip. After that, the non-playoff clubs are ordered by record and the playoffs clubs' orders are set by when they are knocked out of the playoffs with the lower pick going to the team with a lower record.

Who's eligible?

Any NCAA senior who has exhausted their collegiate eligibility is eligible for the draft. That isn't the only way to become eligible for the draft though: There is also a small number of NCAA underclassmen or youth internationals signed to Generation adidas contracts. A Generation adidas player is usually a top underclassman signed to a contract directly through MLS for a higher salary than the average prospect. It is also common for these players to receive education stipends in order to add a perk for completing their degree. The perk to selecting a Generation Adidas player is that they do not count against a teams salary cap until their rookie deal runs out.

Can draft picks be traded?

Yes they can, as we saw earlier this off-season with the Philadelphia Union's trade with the Houston Dynamo for the sixth pick in this year's draft.

Draft picks aren't the only thing that can be traded: Allocation money can be exchanged as well as international player spots.

Is the SuperDraft the only way to bring in young players?

No it isn't, in fact there are three different ways that a club can acquire a player which will be gone over below.

  1. The Discovery Process - Each team submits a list of up to seven players that are neither in MLS nor on the USMNT. From this list a team can sign up to six players. If another team attempts to claim a player that one team has listed the team with the first claim has two options: accept $50,000 in Targeted Allocation money or make a legit offer to the player. Think of it as calling, "First Dibs."
  2. Homegrown Players - A club can sign a player without them going through the draft if that player has at least one year of service within the club's youth academy and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. There is no limit to the amount of Homegrown players that a team may sign in a year.
  3. Trades - Outside of the Homegrown Player process this is the most common mode of gaining a player from another team. See the question, "Can draft picks be traded?" above.
Hopefully this primer helps make the draft easier to understand. Check out the Union's slate of picks below:
Round Pick #
1 3,6
2 23
3 44
4 64