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MLS Waiver Draft: How To Tell Your Ass From This Particular Hole In The Ground

It's a garage sale of talent, and it happens Monday in a conference call

Tyler Ruthven, late of New Jersey, is among the worthies and heavyweights making up this first round of offseason MLS player acquisition.
Tyler Ruthven, late of New Jersey, is among the worthies and heavyweights making up this first round of offseason MLS player acquisition.
Norm Hall

Monday afternoon, via conference call, the process of re-distributing the talent employed by MLS LLC begins in something called the Waiver Draft.

"Oh, sure," you're thinking, clued-in MLS nerd that you are. "That's where New England got Lee Nguyen from Vancouver." And you're mostly right, clued-in straw-man nerd. You're mostly right. Lee Nguyen was acquired in a draft, but that was the Re-Entry Draft, where players with some experience in the league get to participate in a very controlled bit of ‘free agency' if they feel they're being underpaid by their current deal. That takes place in late winter, after the SuperDraft (where the college kids get picked), but after this Waiver Draft, which, as I may have mentioned, happens Monday.

See, MLS is something called a ‘single-entity league,' meaning that, officially for FIFA purposes, there's just one top-flight team from the USA: MLS. That team you support? It's not a team. It's a franchise. That's team's owner? Not the owner; an Investor/Operator is the term you're searching for. But those gentlemen's failure to compete with each other is not something that MLS wants you thinking about, since what the league is selling, in total, is those franchises competing ... it's all very complicated.*

In any case, the very essence of these agreements is that they hold down the cost of labor (i.e., the amount one pays the people actually doing the thing everyone pays to see). Talent evaluation is subtle, though, and multivalent; especially about young players there is plenty of room for even the most discerning scout or technical director to be wrong - one man's trash is another's treasure and all that. Which is why we have a draft like the waiver draft: It's a closed, roped-off garage sale of the league's castoffs and never-weres, giving fellow franchisees first crack at the goods before they're put to the curb (where NASL, USL-PRO and the rest of the football world can pick them up).

It is distinguished from the Re-Entry Draft by its players complete lack of leverage - these are, in large part, either young guys who've never come around, or older guys who are two fingers of scotch and a 15-minute think away from retirement. If the Waiver Draft is a garage sale, the Re-Entry Draft is more like eBay - all kinds of stuff available, some of it potentially a good deal, but the seller gets to have some say about the price. Does that make the SuperDraft Kickstarter - chump change thrown at hopefuls?**

We haven't seen this year's list, but it will be unexceptional. A list like this is where scouting networks and talent evaluation people make their bones. Is there a diamond hidden in these diamelles? Who has just resolved the personal problems which held them back? Whose game turned a corner in the last few months, but couldn't crack the lineup? I have no idea, which, presumably, is why I'm writing this and not advising a local franchisee.

* Just remember: Socialism is only acceptable for those who've stamped enough actual human faces to earn it, or whose family comes from such an august line of face-stampers that even questioning their face-stamping credentials is unseemly. For the rest of us, the law of the jungle.

** Take your suggestions for metaphorical structures explaining MLS' draft-happy offseason to the comments, yeah?

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