From College to the Pros - The US soccer ladder

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

MLS Rule Changes and Player Development...

Back in October I posted an update to a theme I had blogged about in the past. Player development is of great interest to me so you can understand why it hits the blog on a somewhat regular basis. Now comes more news on this front. MLS is doing what it does every year while crowing a champion, changes the rules.

In the past there have been important, great rule changes that have brought the league closer to the World's Game. One in particular signaled that MLS finally gets it, that was when they moved from a count down clock to a count up. This time around I'm not sure what the league gets.

Here is a summary of the 2009 adjustments:

- Roster size decreases from 28 to 24 players
- Schedule changes
- How to qualify for the playoffs
- International club competition qualification

As you can see from the detail in the above list, and as you might expect, I really only care about one of those. The rest I think the league did the right thing. I will say, I'd like to see the league have fewer teams in the playoffs, but that is for another blog.

So, the roster shrinks from 28 to 24. Read the following text to learn the details of the change directly from the horse's mouth. Bold is my own.

Following an extensive review of the operation of the Reserve Division over the past four years, MLS has decided that it will be more efficient to cease operation of the Reserve Division and to divert funds from its operations to more directed programs such as a bolstered senior roster, increased commitment to the Generation adidas program and focused initiatives to provide leading prospects with game experience, whether in MLS or elsewhere. These options are currently being reviewed by an MLS working group.

Each team will be permitted to carry 18, 19 or 20 senior roster players (at its option) within the overall salary budget (the limit in 2008 was 18 senior roster players). In addition, teams will be permitted to carry up to four developmental players (including Generation adidas players) outside of the team salary budget. Any team with more than four Generation adidas players carried forward from 2008 will be grandfathered with respect to the size of their developmental roster.

Bonji's Analysis: Senior roster spots go up to 20 from 18, developmental spots go down from 10 to 4. Sure, a team could keep 18 senior players and 6 developmental and I'm sure some will to save money. But lets look at the worst case scenario for player development. 4 developmental players without a reserve league to play in.

While deciding this change MLS must have ignored the success the Rapids have had with the reserve league, or they decided they aren't getting the quality of player from that system the league needs to thrive. The league also might have looked down the road at the youth systems teams have set up and thought those will fill in eventually as the sport grows. Either way, I am disappointed to see the league fold the reserve league. After all, it is the only trophy the Rapids have been able to win recently.

Back to the Rapids success with the reserve team. The Rapids have used the set up to get young players ready to play in MLS matches. Starters for the first team started out with the reserve team. See below:
Bouna Coundoul: 315 reserve minutes in 2005 before standing in for injured Joe Cannon in 2006. Those performances while backing up Joe Cannon opened the door for the Rapids to trade Cannon making Bouna the starter in 2007. Would the Rapids have felt comfortable with Bouna as a backup without the reserve team experience?
Jordan Harvey: 2006 missed only one reserve game. 2007 started 10 out of 10 reserve league games. 2008 became the starting left back for the Rapids down the stretch under Gary Smith, playing in 15 matches.
The list goes on; Stephen Keel (6 first team matches in '08), Omar Cummings (26 first team matches in '08), Nick LaBrocca (30 first team matches in '08) even went so far as to get a call up to a US National Team Camp this fall.

I think you get the point. The reserve team was working for teams who drafted well and took the reserve league seriously. The Rapids prided themselves on the reserve league and they got a group of players who went 5-4-1 under a good coach this fall.

This will change the draft as well. Instead of 15 teams drafting for potentially 10 development spots, they're now looking at 4. It is going to be a lot harder for a young college grad to find a spot on a roster since they'll be competing with second and third year pros who are also watching their prospects fizzle. Its a player cram down basically.

For me it was a mistake to cancel the reserve league and showed MLS is focused on signing players from abroad or Americans who have developed up abroad. The league is cutting off a good source of players so move the funds somewhere else. I guess the guys with the money didn't want to figure out a way to expand the senior roster and keep the reserve league which would have been the best of both worlds. What do you think?

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  • It's unfortunate that we do not have other MLS alternatives to develop players. they should get 100 development players with equal representation from each MLS Team. The program could be similar to the Residency program in Bradenton. Those players could train daily and try to develop into future players for the MLS teams. Those players could also be available to expansion teams almost like a supplemental expansion draft.

    By Anonymous joel, at 1:51 PM  

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