The first and second rounds of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft were held Friday with the third and fourth rounds to come on Tuesday via conference call. Orlando City fans will notice that the Lions did not pick in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, holding only a spot in the third and fourth rounds.
While in most American professional sports a college draft is important, Orlando City has reached a crucial point in the club’s development where the draft no longer holds such value.
It’s very difficult to find talent in the MLS SuperDraft anymore. While the top players taken in the first round can certainly be game-changers for a club, as Cyle Larin was for Orlando City in the 2015 draft, the further you get down the list, the less likely the players are to even make the first team.
The primary reason why it is so difficult to find a draft class with talent is the Homegrown Player rule. As MLS clubs continue to develop their academies and, more importantly, invest in those academies, the best of the best are now finding themselves tied to the clubs they came up with. So many of the best players coming out of college, or of that age, are not joining the league through the draft, but signing Homegrown Player contracts with their hometown clubs.
In 2015, the MLS SuperDraft was essential for Orlando City. Building a squad nearly from scratch, as only a handful of players played for the club in the USL, the club used the draft to find some key players. But as the club continues to grow its academy, more and more of its Homegrown Players will be the preference for the senior team.
There are several reasons why the club would prefer to have a Homegrown Player over a drafted player. Having come through the club’s academy, the club has been able to keep a watchful eye over the player in his development. But the most important reason has to do with roster rules. A drafted player takes up room on the club’s senior budget while a Homegrown Player, depending on how many there are, may not count at all against the cap.
This is important because Orlando City is starting to reach the point where fans will see multiple players coming out of the academy and play for the senior team. It typically takes about seven years to start seeing the fruits of the academy’s labor. That means if a player joins the academy at the age of 11 or 12, the youngest age of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (though Orlando City’s academy starts at U-8), seven years puts him at 18 or 19 years old -- ideally the time when he would make his senior team debut.
Orlando City’s academy is closing in on its six-year mark, which gets it closer to that seven-year milestone. And the product of that work is starting to show. Pierre Da Silva starred for Orlando City B last season and other academy products, including David Loera, Jack McCloskey, and Landen Haig, were called out of the academy to make appearances for the USL reserve side. It’s only a matter of time before Orlando City starts seeing academy products playing for the first team in MLS.
While Orlando City isn’t quite there yet, the Lions are quickly approaching the time where the MLS SuperDraft will hold little relevance whatsoever. Rather than depending on a draft, hoping a player they want falls to them or giving up a commodity to sign that player, the Lions will be filling the empty spots in their senior team roster with local players straight out of the academy.