Earlier this month, we witnessed the 2021 Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft take place. A night full of joy where college soccer seniors are one move closer to stepping on the pitch for an MLS franchise.
However, year in and year out, fewer college soccer players are seeing the field in an MLS game. So much so that the MLS shortened the draft this year. In 2020 the MLS SuperDraft consisted of four rounds. This year they reduced that number to three-rounds because so many organizations were taking the option to "pass" on their selection, which means that a team decided not to select anybody during that pick.
According to americansocceranalysis.com, from the 2013-2019 MLS drafts, there were an allowed 632 draft picks. Of those allotted picks, teams passed on 10% of them, meaning that 576 players were selected. The players that went on to sign a contract for an MLS team was 46.7%. This means that if a player gets chosen in the MLS draft, there is less than 50% that they will sign a professional contract for an MLS organization, and that number is continuing to drop.
The Philadelphia Union, who won the 2020 Supporters' Shield, for having the best record in the league, did not make one selection in the 2021 MLS draft. Their logic behind that is that they would rather sign a player directly from their development academy due to them already having an understanding of their system.
For example, Philadelphia Union's ex-player, Brendan Aaronson; he joined the Union's academy system in 2015, while he was still a high schooler. After his time in the academy, he was given a homegrown contract.
A homegrown contract is when they sign a player from their development academy directly to their first-team roster. Due to Aaronson's remarkable two season with the Philadelphia Union's first time, he has now signed a contract for RB Salzburg.
Are MLS Academies Sideling College Soccer?
The Brendon Aaronson example is not an uncommon occurrence in the modern American soccer game. Many analysts believe that the MLS draft is outdated, and it is time for high school soccer players to skip college soccer altogether and turn pro from the academies - similar to how it works in Europe.
Since 2017 every MLS franchise has their own youth academy. What make MLS teams so motivated to sign homegrown players is that there is no limit in how many of them a club can sign each year. According to mlssoccer.com, players signed as homegrowns are not counted against the team’s salary budget.
The MLS has seen significant growth in the number of homegrown players signing first-team contract. Below you will see a visual representation of the number of homegrown players in the MLS from 2016 to 2020, data is from totalfootballanalysis.com,
To become a homegrown player a player needs to play for an MLS development academy for at least one year starting before the age of 15. It is also mandatory that they live in the club's region. Once a player graduates from the youth academy, they can then be given a ‘homegrown contract’ depending on if the team has an interest in them.
College Soccer Will Never Be a Bad Choice
Although their may better option to ultimately earn playing time on a professional pitch, college soccer will never be a bad option for young players. It allows them to continue chasing their dreams, while also earning an education.
Here is an excellent story from Darren Eales, the winner of the 2020 NCAA silver award winner, sharing his college soccer experience, via NCAA Soccer,
Johnathan Wright is a contributing soccer writer for GMTM. He played college soccer for the University of Louisville and now is a freelance writer covering the sports of soccer and basketball for multiple media companies. Johnathan is also currently earning a Master of Science in Sport Business with a concentration in Sport Analytics from Temple University.