From my perspective one of the issues that the MLS has to address in the years ahead is how it develops players. With there soon to be two other Canadian clubs joining Toronto FC in MLS the need for good young Canadian players will surely grow. And the current primary means for clubs in MLS to develop players (the MLS SuperDraft) will have to be supplemented by Academies and actual investment in player development. There will not be enough good Canadian players playing in the NCAA that will be good enough for MLS. I’ll save that for another blog for now…..But as the league stands today, even with Canadian content restrictions, the SuperDraft is one of the primary tools a club like TFC has to build its roster and lay a foundation for future success.
Now with Sam Cronin’s departure confirmed by TFC yesterday to the San Jose Earthquakes this now leaves only two players that have been drafted by Toronto since the 2007 expansion draft and 4 MLS SuperDrafts that are still with the team. They are of course Stefan Frei and O’Brien White.
To me this seems like a staggeringly small number. We drafted 16 players from the last four league drafts and yet only two remain. In order to try and put those kinds of numbers into some sort of context I took a look a the rosters of two clubs in particular for a comparison point. I wanted to see if the amount of squad turnover and jettisoning of draft picks in Toronto was comparable to MLS Champions Real Salt Lake and perennial Eastern Playoff contenders the New England Revolution.
Now some might critique my choices of comparison to RSL and the Revs. Here is why I chose them. RSL is worthy of a look based on the fact that they are current league champions and have been in the league just a bit longer than TFC. I took a closer look at New England because they are a league original franchise, I respect Stevie Nichol a great deal, and in a parity league like MLS they have managed in the last eight years to never miss the playoffs thus giving themselves a chance to win the big prize each season. Both clubs in my estimation are worthy of emulation.
Here are the numbers: Seven players or 37% of players on the current Real Salt Lake Roster were drafted through the MLS SuperDraft. A surprising fourteen or 56% of the current New England Revolution roster came from the SuperDraft. And TFC with only two draft picks on the roster has 9% of its team filled through the draft.
Granted anything outside the second round is usually a crapshoot, however only two of eight players drafted in the first two rounds of the draft are still with TFC. Compare that for a moment with the aforementioned Stevie Nichol’s record. Since 2007 New England has been able to hang onto five players on their current roster that they drafted. Two of them are actually draft picks from the third round. A staggering fourteen players on the Revs squad have been drafted by the team and still remain. Three of them (Ralston, Twellman and Joseph were all selected in 2002) and they represent the spine of the club.
I hope that the dollars Mo got back from San Jose for Cronin are worth it and I hope that the allocation space can be used to sign players that can help the club improve and make the playoffs. But where will we be in a year or two when the allocation dollars expire and Sam Cronin is still playing in San Jose? Unless the style of building this club changes I foresee TFC continually drafting players one year and shipping them out the next.
In a salary cap league, and until the rules change, the SuperDraft has to be used more like a team building tool rather than just a source of warm bodies Mo Johnston can play Football Manager with!
Former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher was once famously quoted as saying “…Draft Schmaft…” when it came to building a contending hockey club. This week the Leafs go into the NHL Draft being forced to watch Boston pick second overall with a Maple Leafs draft pick traded away and the club out of the playoffs for five straight seasons. I can only think of Wendel Clark as a Leaf draftee worthy of his top choice in the past 25 years.
I just hope that Tom Anselmi understands that TFC can’t be run the way the Leafs have been.