Professional Sports

How does the MLS/NWSL Draft work?

By Jessica Fassnidge
The USA is very unique when it comes to professional sports as it is unlike anywhere else in the world. When you play top-level soccer in the US, in either the NWSL or MLS, they both have a draft system in place to give those an opportunity to get picked after or during their collegiate career.

Each year when the draft takes place, the best college soccer players throughout the NCAA/NAIA and NJCAA are selected in different rounds by different clubs. Often there can be up to 90 male soccer players and 36 women’s players selected to be in the draft. To be eligible to be in the draft players need to have exhausted their colligate career and not have any years left of eligibility.

The purpose of the draft is to encourage an equal playing field, so the weaker teams have the chance to select top players and improve their roster. The idea of this is to allow a competitive league with all teams being able to fight and win the chance to have top players within their sides.

What are the NWSL and MLS Super draft rules?

The first pick of the draft will go to any extension teams which are essentially brand-new teams to enter the MLS and have their first upcoming season. Therefore, they can pick the best player as the first overall pick to kick start the draft. After any extension teams have selected it will then go to the teams that did not make the playoffs. Typically, they will be in the bottom half of the table and the picks are based on reverse order. For example, if the premier league were to adopt this rule and you based it on the 2019-2020 season, then Norwich who finished at the bottom would be receiving the first pick followed by Watford and Bournemouth.

Next in line to have a selection at the draft would be those who made the play-offs pending on when they were knocked out. Again, following the suit of reverse order, those knocked out in earlier rounds get an earlier pick than those who make it further within the tournament.

Play-off teams are next pending on when they were knocked out of the playoff rounds. Again, those knocked out first will pick first, and so on. Finally, the last team to pick are those who were the previous year’s MLS cup winners.

These 4 main rules all add up to the idea of why the draft was implemented in the first place to provide fairness and equality among the leagues. With the MLS cup winners being the strongest team that given year, they then get the last pick to allow other teams to also get talent in and improve.

What happens if I get drafted?

If you are lucky enough to be picked in the draft the hard work is only just about to begin. Being selected does not guarantee you a contract, players will report for pre-season and fight to get into the squad or starting team to earn a contract. This is the same whether you are selected in the NWSL draft or the MLS Super Draft. You will work hard to compete for a roster spot and try to earn that all-important contract.

Those that enter the NWSL draft but are not selected will be known as ‘discovery players’. This means that as a discovery player you can be available to any club within the league. In the MLS Super Draft, if you were drafted but did not sign a contract with the club often many, go on to play for the MLS team’s USL squad.

Generation Adidas

Within the men’s game, the MLS has a partnership with Adidas which is a joint venture that aims to improve the amount of youth professional soccer talent in the US. Those that are not eligible for the super draft may be entered as a Generation Adidas player. By being entered as a Generation Adidas player, means that you are automatically classified as a professional which therefore will disqualify you from competing in college soccer. Due to this professional status and not being eligible for a scholarship in college, the Generation Adidas venture aims to provide scholarships for those within education if their professional career did not pan out.

Examples of Generation Adidas players consist of former US national team keeper Tim Howard, previous Fulham goalkeeper, and Tottenham star Clint Dempsey, as well as players such as Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Guzan, Kyle Beckerman, and many more.

Top Draft picks and where they are now

There have been some unbelievable players to go through both the NWSL draft and the MLS Super draft that have graced the soccer world. Many of whom are now retired and many of those still young and still starting out. Players that have had fantastic professional careers across the world as a result of being select in a draft. Below are some examples of top players and where they are now.

Jack Harrison was picked by the Chicago fire in 2016 as the first overall pick of the draft. He was traded to New York City Football Club and made an instant impact. He scored 14 goals and tailed 13 assists within the 55 appearances he made for the club. Today, Harrison now plays topflight in the English Premier League for Leeds United where he is a regular starter and impact player for the newly-promoted side.

Julie Ertz was selected in the 2014 draft as the third overall pick by the Chicago Red Stars. She hit the ground running as she was named ‘NWSL Rookie of the Year’ after her 2014 season. She has 103 appearances for the USA Women’s National Team as well as 20 goals and 4 assists. She has been part of two world-cup winning sides under Jill Ellis and is still considered one of the best players within the NWSL and US National Side.

Clint Dempsey was drafted eighth overall in the 2004 draft by New England Revolution. Dempsey, often spoken about as one of the greatest to ever come through the MLS Super Draft, went on to play in the premier league for Fulham and then a short spell at Tottenham where he scored a combined 75 goals in the Premier League. He has played and scored in 3 world cups for the United States National Team. He ended his career with 140 caps for the US as well as 57 international goals.

Tobin Heath played for University North Carolina and helped lead the side to successive national championships in 2006, 2008, and 2009. As the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, she was selected by an expansion team, Atlanta Beat, before being traded to Sky Blue FC. Heath has been part of the PSG side between 2012 and 2014 before playing for Portland Thorns from 2013 – 2019. Currently, Heath is playing for Man United WFC in topflight football in England. She has 169 current appearances for the USA National side with 33 goals and 40 assists. Along with Julie Ertz, she also has two world cups under her belt.

The draft concept is still going strong, albeit going to be a digital format for the 2021 event due to COVID. There are talks in the future that the MLS and NWSL could adopt a similar process of the transfer window that occurs in the Premier League and all European countries. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the future.

If your dream is to play in the MLS or NWSL be sure to read ‘How do I get Drafted by an MLS/NWSL Team’.

Read more about our players who were drafted in the MLS Superdraft in 2019 and 2020 –  Joel Rydstrand (drafted by the Seattle Sounders), Jørgen Oland (drafted by Portland Timbers), Patrick Bunk-Andersen (drafted by Toronto FC), and Patrick Nielsen (drafted by Atlanta United)

If you want to follow in the footsteps of some of the best soccer players in the world and obtain a college scholarship and working towards getting drafted, then complete a FREE ASSESSMENT today.

If you want to watch the drafts live everything you need to know is below:

Jørgen Oland

Soccer
Fordham University, New York

Joel Rydstrand

Soccer
Creighton University, Nebraska

Patrick Bunk-Andersen

Soccer
Clemson University, South Carolina

Patrick Nielsen

Soccer
Michigan State University

Lucy Ashworth

Soccer
Lamar University, Texas

Markus Kvame Naglestad

Soccer
Providence College, Rhode Island