“We want a league where every fan feels their team has got a realistic chance”
topped last year’s regular-season standings. Most of that group will probably be moved straight to the Red Bulls II team – just as top clubs in Spain and Germany play B teams in lower leagues, MLS recently partnered with the United Soccer League (USL) to field sides in that competition, and add another viable path to the first team for young players who may never participate in the draft.
But for those who do take part, it’s a nerve-wracking wait to see where they will get their shot. The would-be draftees and their families all sit in a section to the right of the main stage that is effectively a departure lounge. Many of the fringe players, of course, will also be wondering whether they will remain seated throughout the entire afternoon, until the lights come up without them ever making it to stage left.
It would be even more nerve-wracking if they were aware of the scene on the other side of the black curtain, as Durbin and his team work out whether teams actually have the wherewithal within the strict rules to back up their trade proposals.
The mechanism grinds on, and that “most complicated deal ever” ends up with LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders enacting a four-way trade around the 12th and 15th spots that results in Chicago getting the 12th pick, but giving up the number one pick in the allocation order for returning US internationals. There’s a player on the move in the midst of it all as well (beyond Jonathan Campbell and Emmanuel Appiah, the two players picked in the 12th and 15th spots, when the dust finally settles), along with various bits of allocation money, and the future draft picks that tend to decorate these trade agreements. The draft certainly helps prepare young players for the reality of life as a potential makeweight in deals that can shuttle them to new lives on the other side of the continent at a moment’s notice.
With the wording finally agreed on the announcement of the latest trade deal, Commissioner Garber is dispatched onstage to break down the complexity of it all, and does so gamely before returning backstage to flop into the seat beside FFT, politely smiling at our lame joke that he may just have announced he is playing for Colorado next year. “It is complicated,” he admits, “but when you think it through, it makes sense, because now Colorado are free to move for a [Tim] Howard or [Alejandro] Bedoya when they come back, and…” For a second he sounds as enthused as any fan obsessing on the minutiae of their club, but we are in an environment where the moments for such indulgences are fleeting.
With a glance at the remaining time on the countdown clock, Garber breaks off his explanation to deal with a make-up artist powdering him for the lights again, and bounds back to his feet to check on the pronunciation of the next pick’s name with senior communications coordinator Jane Sexton. But there’s still a moment for him to turn back from the wings one more time and say: “Gets the adrenaline going though, right?”
Then he slips through the curtain again to announce the start of another young player’s professional dream. And to set the clock running on the next one.