Major League Soccer’s off-season is sort of a like a Pixies song -- it starts off loud, gets quiet, then gets really loud again. Well, it’s been quiet for a while since the pre-Thanksgiving frenzy that followed the expansion draft. It will get loud again.
But probably not untilafter
the first stage of the MLS re-entry draft concludes today.
The two-phase draft, a by-product of the new collective bargaining agreement that almost stalled this season, is a step short of full-blown free agency. The idea is to allow veteran players the ability to switch teams more freely. In the past, i.e. the Kevin Hartman situation from February, a team would hold on to a player it didn’t want until another team could produce a trade the holding team felt was fair.
The problem, for many teams (Sporting Kansas City included), is that the first stage requires the drafting team to offer the draftee a contract similar to their current contract. (To bring this home, if D.C. United selects KC center back Jimmy Conrad -- as has been speculated in some sectors -- D.C. would need to match his base compensation of $230,000. To bring this home even more, if KC wanted to keep Conrad, it would’ve had to make him a "bona-fide offer," which is a fancy way to say "a 5 percent raise." In other words, it was a business decision.)
The majority of players entered in this process are players of advancing age and high salary requirements -- such as Conrad and Josh Wolff. Meaning, well, not much movement is expected in the first round. Especially for a team like Kansas City, which despite last year’s struggles, isn’t in a rebuilding mode this off-season.
"Maybe one or two players get picked up," said Kansas City head coach/technical director Peter Vermes of today’s draft. But he expects many franchises will wait for the second phase, when teams can negotiate new deals with the players. Or, he says, "the smart teams" will try and negotiate new deals with their playersin between
the drafts and use the new deals as trade bait.**After the first stage of the draft, the holding team is allowed to re-negotiate with out-of-contract players and sign them to new deals at discounted prices before the second stage on Dec. 15.
League bottom-feeder D.C. United will kick-off the process tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central. Newly appointed head coach Ben Olsen (a former U.S. national team teammate of Conrad’s)has stated the team’s desire to use their first pick
"We'll be picking. There is a guy or two that we have our eye on, and we think this thing can help us. We think the Re-Entry Draft can help us a lot, but we also have to be smart. We need guys that can continue our progress [in the off-season] and add a foundation for next year."
Though, who knows, maybe it could get loud today with D.C., Chivas, New England or even one of the new expansion teams looking to snag a quality vet going into next season. Stay tuned to see if what will happen to Conrad and Wolff.
As for Kansas City's plan this afternoon, both Heineman and Vermes were tight-lipped about specific players, but Heineman offered that there were "one or two" players in the re-entry process that they were taking a look at. Expect them to stay quiet this afternoon though.
Since I know you’re begging to know, my favorite Pixies song is "Wave of Mutilation."
Understanding the "Discovery" process
Another equally important phase of the MLS off-season is the "Discovery" period. It’s a fairly cut-and-dried process: The team scours the globe looking for talent and, if the team finds a player currently outside of Major League Soccer (including pro leagues like NASL and USL) that they would like to sign, they add him to their "Discovery" list. With rosters expanding to 30 players next season, building the roster will become trickier. The more targets, the more options.
Each team is allowed 12 "Discovery" bids, and these lists were turned in to the league on Monday. After the league goes through each team’s bid (Not every team uses every spot, Vermes said. "We used all 12.") and sorts out conflicts,* team’s are allowed to begin negotiating the player’s transfer.***If you thought the re-entry process was confusing, try this: If multiple teams put in a bid on the same player, a mini-draft/lottery is held to determine which team has priority to sign said player. If Team A wins the lottery and decides to pass on the player, Team B can step into the breach and attempt to sign them. And so on. "We have conflicts on three players [on our list]," said Vermes. "We’re second [on all three]. But we already have back-up players in mind [for all three]." **Of course, this is where it gets a bit complicated again. If I understand correctly, Major League Soccer actually signs the player to their contract and the team pays it.
Who’s on Kansas City’s "Discovery" list? That information, for fear of conflicts of interest and to also help with contract negotiations, is kept quiet.
But team president Robb Heineman gave away a few details: Given the trouble the team had locking up the back, it shouldn’t be surprising that seven of the 12 players are defenders.*** Three players are "pure DP" slot guys**** and there are six players who are "guys we’ll know more about in the next 45 days," Heineman said.***Vermes said he is in the process of trying to sign one of these players right now. "As soon as we can get through the hoops," he said. Earlier on Tuesday, Andy Edwards at the Daily Wiz posted a rumor that French defender Aurelien Collin was a target for Sporting KC. Collin currently plays for Vitoria Setubal in Portugal’s first division. Neither Heineman nor Vermes would verify this rumor. But Vermes signaled that Collin was one of 14 targets the staff was scouting in Portugal last month. ****When Sporting scouts a player, they place them into certain pay slots. Their "Discovery" list is a mixture of many pay slots.
While many on the list might come from November scouting trips to Portugal, Sweden and Denmark (not to mention the possibility of lower-tier American players), there’s a good chance that there will be a good number of Caribbean players there too.
"Caribbean players fit this league," Vermes said. And that region has been an area of great interest to the team, because of the proximity for travel and the quality (and cost) of the players there.**********Notable Caribbean players in MLS: KC’s Shavar Thomas (Jamaica) and Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe), Colorado’s Omar Cummings (Jamaica), Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso (Cuba), New England’s Shalrie Joseph (Grenada), New York’s Dane Richards (Jamaica) and Los Angeles’ Chris Burchall (Trinidad and Tobago) and Donovan Ricketts (Jamaica).
Not coincidentally, Vermes had just returned Tuesday from a scouting combine the team hosted in Trinidad. The combine featured trialists from the Caribbean, South American, Africa and Europe.
"Hopefully," Vermes said, "some of our off-season signings will reflect" the team’s growing focus on that region.
Hoarding International slots
With the expansion of the league to 18 teams and the roster to 30 players, International slots (and allocation money) have become premium commodities this off-season. According to Vermes, Sporting KC has 9 international slots; 8 of them permanent.
There are currently 8 international players on the team: Omar Bravo (Mexico), Craig Rocastle (England/Grenada), Sunil Chhetri (India), Korede Aiyegbusi (England), Ryan Smith (England), Zoltan Hercegfalvi (Hungary), Nikos Kounenakis (Greece) and Jimmy Nielsen (Denmark). If Smith becomes an American citizen -- "Which we hope will happen soon," Vermes said -- it gives the team an additional international slot. Current international players Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe), Birahim Diop (Senegal), Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone) and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica) have green cards; Roger Espinoza (Honduras) and Teal Bunbury (Canada) have dual-citizenship.
Coming later this week:
More on the MLS SuperDraft and Sporting Kansas City’s interesting (and slightly obvious) designated-player strategy.Note: Comments are now enabled. Our technical staff? Geniuses.