One of the many oddities about MLS is the Re-Entry Draft. This is one mechanism for players whose club has decided not to bring back, allowing them to re-enter the league with a new team. Eligible players are those at least 23 years old with a minimum of three years of MLS experience and those at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years MLS experience whose club does not want to re-sign them at their previous salary. The draft is held in two stages, one week apart, with teams selecting in reverse order of the previous year’s finish.
While clubs that select a player in Stage 1 must exercise the player’s option or extend a “bona fide offer,” Stage 2 selections will negotiate with the player for a new contract. The flexibility of Stage 2 selections is why most clubs wait until this day to select available players. Since the Re-Entry Draft started in 2010, only 18 players have been taken in the first stage, with the most being four in 2013, while 49 players have been taken in the second stage, with a high of 14 in 2012. The only year where more players were taken in Stage 1 than in Stage 2 was in 2013.
It’s clear that there are more advantages to taking a player in the second stage of the draft but what if your team doesn’t select any players? How many of these selections actually work out? While there are the occasional success stories, most of Re-Entry Draft selections spend minimal time with their new team.
Of the 67 players taken in the history of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, 51 spent two years or less with their new teams, with 29 only staying a single year and 11 never joining the team. The least successful year of the draft was in 2012 when there were 15 players selected. Eight of those players only spent one season with their new team and three never signed. The only two players to become key players for their teams were Conor Casey, who spent three years with the Philadelphia Union and was a starter for the first two, and former Lion Eric Avila, who played the final two years of Chivas USA’s existence, logging over 2,100 minutes in each season.
Some of the most successful selections include Sean Franklin and Bobby Boswell with D.C. United, Marvell Wynne with the San Jose Earthquakes, and Atiba Harris and Maximiliano Urruti with FC Dallas. Selected in 2013, Franklin has spent the last four years in D.C. as a starter on the United back line, logging over 2,000 minutes in each season. Boswell was selected the same year and accumulated over 2,000 minutes in his first three seasons along United’s back line.
Wynne was selected by the San Jose Earthquakes and Harris by FC Dallas in 2014. Wynne was a key starter for the Quakes in his first two seasons, logging over 2,700 minutes in each, while Harris has played over 1,800 minutes in his first three seasons in Dallas.
Possibly the best selection from the Re-Entry Draft has been Urruti, who was selected by FC Dallas in 2015. He has become a star in the Lone Star State, helping Dallas to become a contender in the West.
In Orlando City’s short time in MLS, it has made selections in each of its three MLS Re-Entry Drafts. In 2014, the Lions selected goalkeeper Josh Ford, who played in only two MLS games during his one season in Orlando. The following year they selected Kevin Alston, who started 21 of 24 appearances in 2016 before spending the 2017 season with OCB. Last season, the club selected goalkeeper Patrick McLain who never appeared for City, instead being a piece of the Kevin Molino trade to Minnesota United prior to the 2017 season.
The chances of finding a key piece of the team through the MLS Re-Entry Draft is very rare, which is why many teams don’t even make a selection. However, there have been instances where one of those players has become an important aspect of the team. With only two players being selected in the first stage of the 2017 draft last week, most teams will have to decide whether they want to make a selection on Thursday. With less commitment required for the upcoming stage, you can virtually guarantee there will be more picks to come, and if history repeats itself, likely one for Orlando City.