The 2014 MLS Signing Period

 

The MLS Cup has ended, bringing a conclusion the 2013 MLS season. As the season ends, a flurry of activity has begun across the U.S. and Canadian soccer landscape. Teams from the top to the bottom of the soccer pyramid have started reorganizing in preparation for the 2014 season. The first step being the MLS Re-Entry Draft. The MLS Super Draft occurs after the December MLS Re-Entry Draft, where teams add free agents released from other teams.

All the MLS teams have already submitted their nominations for the MLS Super-Draft which are typically due on November 1st. This list is then released as the players invited for the MLS Super Draft and the MLS Combine.

MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale

(1) 2013 MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Players enter the MLS SuperDraft through a nomination process by MLS Clubs. There is no application process, or other mechanism for college players to enter the MLS SuperDraft. The MLS SuperDraft is a nomination-only process based on the recommendations of the respective MLS teams of NCAA students who have excelled and meet the SuperDraft eligibility requirements. Thus if a player is not nominated by an MLS team, then that player cannot participate in the MLS Combine or the MLS SuperDraft.

MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale

(2) 2013 MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Most teams have scouting departments that conduct extensive research over the course of the year. For teams that plan for the SuperDraft, it is an arduous process where teams use spreadsheets to track college players, watch live games, videos and looking at a myriad of statistics. By draft day, the scouting departments would have already ranked the players they hope to select, and simply hope things work out as planned.

The process during the signing period is as follows:

1. MLS Re-Entry Draft Players (MLS free agents with a known history).
2. College Soccer Players (The draft is biased towards NCAA Division-1 soccer players).
3. Players targeted by team scouts (Free Transfers, Designated Players).
4. Academy, reserve team players, home grown or youth players promoted to the first team.
5. Everybody else (USL Pro, PDL, players represented by agents).

Due to this predefined mechanism for player selection, it can be somewhat difficult for talented players who may be outside of the 'pipeline' to get the necessary visibility to make it into an MLS squad. This is also the case for college seniors who are not nominated for the SuperDraft. In such cases, these players must try to attend a team tryout. Team tryouts vary from team to team in the MLS. Some teams categorically state 'we do not hold open tryouts', other teams have 'invitation only tryouts', while others hold open tryouts which generally cost around $100, while some teams only work with agents with which they have an existing relationship and hold closed door trials. 

In most cases a referral from someone who has a good relationship with a member of the technical staff can assure a trial for a player whether this referral comes from an players' agent or not. There are no metrics for the number of players selected through 'open' tryouts, but it is believed that the numbers are very low and trials remain the only straightforward mechanism for players who are outside of the pipeline to break in.

These players who are outside the pipeline, have not been sitting idly by. In 2012 year 8 MLS teams were eliminated by amateur teams or USL Pro teams in the U.S. Open Cup. This was a disruptive event that got little media coverage. Unfortunately, U.S. Open Cup performances are no gaurentee to get picked up by an MLS team, due to the constraints of MLS Roster Rules and Regulations, which mandate a strict 30-man roster.

For many of these players, it may be worthwhile to continue to tryout for a USLPro team or an NASL team. These teams present exciting opportunities for young players and it is expected that they will shake up the U.S. Open Cup tournament in 2014.

Concorde Sports Agency tries to serve as a guide and advocate for domestic players in the United States and Canada, particularly those who may be outside the view of team scouts and the not eligible for the MLS SuperDraft system. These may be players who may have come from foreign countries and are now Green Card holders in the United States with prior professional experience, these may be players who may be playing in the USL Pro or in the PDL, these may be talented players from Division-2 or Division-3 level, these may even be exceptionally talented players who are playing in amateur city leagues. Wherever the player comes from, it should be recognized that the players' history may be outside of the established scouting mechanisms. 

FIFA recognizes that "a player’s training and education takes place between the ages of 12 and 23"[1]. The point of emphasis here is that there is an age range where players are considered to be still developing their skills, regardless of where they are getting their playing experience from (NCAA Division 1 versus a lower NCAA Division).

Concorde Sports Agency also tries to help teams understand the role of an agent, our goal is to scout independently of the team scouting department. It is not in the interest of a players' agent to present a player to a team that is not talented. The ultimate goal of an agent is to help teams succeed in the talent recruitment process by identifying talented players. Since many teams have limited budgets to recruit, working with good agents with access to talented players can be helpful.

Concorde Sports Agency is a California based sports marketing firm compliant with FIFA Statutes and Regulations as well U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) Licensed Players Agent Policies. FIFA Players Agent. Concorde Sports Agency is on the FIFA Players' Agent Registry - http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/footballgovernance/playeragents/association=usa.html

References:

[1] FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players