Marcus Tracy created a bit of a media storm when he signed with Major League Soccer earlier this week. And why not? Tracy won the 2008 Hermann Trophy (college soccer's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy). The American forward spurned MLS in 2009 and signed a contract with Danish club AaB. If Tracy would have signed with MLS, he likely would have been the first pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. That's a very nice pedigree I wouldn't have minded seeing join the Chicago Fire.
Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. The San Jose Earthquakes won this lottery despite having the second lowest odds. If you are new to MLS, you might be wondering why a lottery at all? If you are a MLS veteran, there's an interesting stat to look at. All that and more discussed after the break.
The first thing to understand about why MLS would have a lottery is that MLS is a single-entity. When players sign a contract, they don't sign directly with a team, they sign with the league. That structure allows a lottery for the different teams to exist in the first place. A MLS lottery occurs when the following circumstances take place.
Some players shall be assigned to MLS teams via the weighted Lottery process. Any team assigned a player through the lottery in any particular season shall not be assigned another lottery player that season unless and until all teams have received a lottery player or have agreed to waive their option to participate in a Lottery. The players made available through lotteries include:
Generation adidas players signed after the MLS SuperDraft;
Draft eligible players to whom an MLS contract was offered but who failed to sign with the League prior to the Draft.
The weighted lottery takes into consideration each team's performance over its last 34 regular season games and the most recent postseason. The team with the worst record over its last 34 regular season games (dating back to previous season if necessary and taking playoff performance into account) will have the greatest probability of winning the lottery. Teams are not required to participate in a lottery. Players are assigned via the lottery system in order to prevent a player from potentially influencing his destination club with a strategic holdout.
The bolding of the last line is my emphasis. MLS wants to avoid a situation where let's say Austin Berry went to play for some Irish team so he could hang out in Dublin and wait to sign with the Columbus Crew after the draft because he was born in Cincinnati and he wants to be close to home. It might seem cruel of MLS to deny Berry that happiness but that's the way it goes. This rule is designed with the goal of maintaining parity in the league. The worst teams have the best odds of obtaining these players. Top American players can't avoid playing for Toronto FC and sign with the LA Galaxy just by skirting the draft.
Impact of Lottery Players
These MLS Lotteries tend to be much ado about nothing. Here's a list of players that have been acquired through this lottery system with a hat tip to Climbing the Ladder:
2000-Mario Longo, CLB
2001-Paul Grafer, SJ
2001-Gus Kartes, COL
2001-Hamisi Amani-Dove, DAL
2002-Nelson Akwari, NY
2002-D.J. Countess, NY
2002-Winston Griffiths, DAL
2003-Joey DiGiamarino, NY
2004-Danny Szetela, CLB
2005-Alex Yi, DAL
2006-David Arvizu, NY
2007- , CLB
2007-Israel Sesay, LA
2008- , COL
2009-Paulo Campos, SJ
2009- , RSL
2010- , KC
2010- , CHV
2011- , SJ
2011-Cody Arnoux, RSL
2011-Chris Agorsor, PHI
2011- , CLB
2011-Sonny Saad, KC
2012-Lee Nguyen, VAN
2012- , COL
Robbie Rogers and Luis Gil have been great successes. Other guys like Cody Arnoux, Chris Agorsor, and Korey Veeder have barely registered if at all. Even a competent player like Lee Nguyen was originally released by Vancouver shortly after they won his lottery. There are more Agorsors on this list than there are Gils. The reason for this comes down to the profile of the players that fit this small niche.
First you have to be a domestic player that can attract interest from foreign teams at a young age. That's a tall task. Next, you have to have a personality that is comfortable leaving this country to give another country a shot. That requires some adventure and risk. If you are coming back to MLS, you are almost certainly taking a pay cut and playing in a less prestigious league. For a player to accept those circumstances, it means something went sour along the way. In Marcus Tracy's case, it's the fact that he has been fighting knee tendinitis for that past couple of years. If Tracy could continue to climb up the ladder and get paid much more money in Europe, he would. Instead he'll make about the minimum playing for San Jose.
I'm not happy that Chicago lost the Tracy lottery. We have a couple of open slots. We could have used another forward (hence the Guillermo Franco signing). Tracy is a domestic player and he still has some potential. He could become a very impactful player but history is against him. MLSSoccer.com had to include Nat Borchers in a list of three lottery success stories when Borchers doesn't even fit the typical description.
MLS Rules Are a Funny Thing
I looked over Borchers' career trying to figure out why he went into a lottery. I have no clue. It doesn't surprise me that somehow Borchers ended up in one though. I'm sure MLS figured out something. MLS originally had Kamani Hill listed as a player that was acquired via the Allocation Order (article dated June 26th written by Simon Borg). Then they had a piece that said Kamani Hill was taken in a Lottery (article dated September 12th written by Simon Borg). I have not seen any clarification offered. Unfortunately this is not a rare case in MLS. The whole Marcus Tracy saga is a great 'Welcome to MLS' ordeal for the unbaptized.
I don't mind MLS' twelve-lettered Player Acquisition Mechanism process. Many MLS teams continue to lose money and this complicated system keeps player salaries down. I think the league is turning the corner. The current collective bargaining agreement runs through 2014 and a new CBA should give the players raises that are higher than what's established in the current contract. What I do mind is MLS playing loose and fast with their rules. Messing up Hill's acquisition process is inexcusable. He may not be a big time player but get things together.
Chicago Fire are a Top 5 Team Over the Last 34 Games
The Marcus Tracy lottery numbers were calcuated based on teams' performance over the last 34 games. I would have guessed the Fire were one of the best teams but I would not have guessed the Fire were the second best team in the league over their respective last 34 games.
*Montreal has only played 29 games - ^The Tracy Lottery Numbers were based on 34 games before Wednesday's TFC vs. CHI game. These numbers factor in Wednesday's game.
I'm also surprised at a fairly large gap between the top 6 clubs and the 8th club downward. This data set is worthy of further examination in another piece. For now, I'll just thank Marcus Tracy for giving MLS a reason to kick these numbers up. The case for Frank Klopas to be Coach of the Year grows.