5 Things You’ll See at the MLS SuperDraft

Soccer Lists

The MLS SuperDraft is a magical event, dripping with pomp and cacophony, bathed in swaths of fluorescent light. It exists both as a mechanism to disperse young talent into America and Canada’s top flight soccer league and as a showpiece for the league itself. It’s a bombastic flashy thing that quite often sends players who won’t make much impact on their new teams into the league on the back of hype they don’t deserve.

What’s odd about the SuperDraft is that it’s an anachronism wrapped up in truly modern media packaging. Quite obviously, the MLS version of the draft is meant to ape the NFL Draft, juggernaut of vapid analysis dressed up in big time trappings. Through sheer force of its brand, the NFL turned a non-event into one of its biggest television days of the year. Though MLS can’t match the popularity of the NFL, there’s a clear attempt to use their draft in the same way. Put on a show, and reel the fans when there aren’t games to sell.

The MLS SuperDraft will never match the NFL orgy of tailored suits and stylish team-branded ballcaps, but it is something to behold. If you’ve never been, there are plenty of unique elements that make attending the SuperDraft a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What follows is a list of those elements, in the traditional power rankings style that we all love so much.

1. Blaring pop music
The simplest way to tell you’re at the MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas is that your ears are bleeding. It’s like being at the loudest, brightest club on the planet. Or, it’s like a pro skateboarding event held inside, but without the really cool rail grinds and goofy foot olleys.

If you happen to be one of those people who just doesn’t have time to keep up with the latest music trends, have no fear—the SuperDraft will catch you up. The soundtrack of the SuperDraft ballroom is a rolling stream of the days biggest, poppiest and most bass-thumping hits, all played at a volume that would make Spinal Tap blush. The music is potted down whenever an announcement of any type needs to be made (like an actual draft selection, for example), but it always returns—with a vengeance.

2. Blank stares and awkward smiles
Remember, the stars of college soccer who are rising to the pro level on draft day are nearly anonymous by any real sports standard. Unlike their NFL contemporaries, even the best college players are unknown to everyone but a small, exclusive click of super nerds who make it their business to watch bad soccer player under strange rules in front of tiny crowds.

When Johnny Midfielder from Michisota State gets his name called by Don Garber, he’s entering a strange new world where the spotlight shines directly on him for what might as well be the first time. There are even TV cameras! Naturally, this leads to a deer-in-headlights moment while Johnny attempts to process his selection. Then comes the bestowing of the ceremonial team scarf and an awkward handshake/photo-op with the commissioner, followed by a moment at the podium to himself.

Rarely does this go well. Imagine the worst Academy Awards speech you’ve ever heard, delivered by a kid with no public speaking experience. Some have even managed to get the name of the team that drafted them wrong. Ouch.

3. Powerful people at tiny tables

There’s something naturally humorous about the little tables set up for each team at the SuperDraft. The assembled staff—GMs, coaches, and assistants—look like mafia factions, if mafia factions sometimes looked completely harmless and feature numerous buzzcuts.

4. Chanting fans
While the NFL has its rowdies diehards who show up to lobby for their preferred selection and then boo when it doesn’t happen (Hello, Jets fans), the MLS SuperDraft takes this element to another level. NFL fans don’t organize, so they’re simply not versed in delivering biting chants and songs at a standard worthy of notice. The gaggle of random attendees is lucky to manage the tried-but-boring “Player Name clap-clap-clap” chant when put to the test.

MLS fans organize. The SuperDraft, especially when it is in a convenient East Coast local like Philadelphia, is the perfect place for a coming-together of various buses full of people who know how to chant and sing in unisons because they do it at every home game throughout the season. Previous SuperDrafts in Philadelphia were as much “MLS Supporters Group Chanting Championships” as they were drafts. Red Bulls fans chant hatred at D.C. United fans. D.C. United fans chant hatred at Philadelphia Union fans. Philadelphia Union fans chant hatred at Red Bulls fans. Everyone chants hatred at Philadelphia Union fans, because well, they’re from Philadelphia.

5. Faux analysis (or “fauxnalysis”)
As previously mentioned, college soccer players are mostly unknowns when they take the stage at the SuperDraft. College soccer’s profile in the United States is miniscule, despite its traditionally large role in producing players for MLS and the USMNT. We simply don’t know these kids, so when they do hit the stage, nearly everyone in the room is working off of secondhand reports when it comes to analysis. The resulting analysis leaves a lot to be desired.

“Johnny Midfielder is good on the ball, but at 5’6” 145 lbs., might be too small for the professional game” says talking soccer head guy. “Columbus needs depth at centerback,” says another. “This guy listed at 6’5” might be a good choice.” What you’ve got is a room of blind people trying to explain color to other blind people.

Sounds awful. So why watch?
Because somewhere in among all the loud music, awkward smiles, tiny tables, chanting fans and desperate fauxnalysis, one of those hopeful young soccer players might just be the next Steve Birnbaum (picked second in 2014, on the USMNT roster this January 2015), Michael Bradley (picked 36th in 2004) or even Clint Dempsey (picked eighth in 2004, now USMNT captain). And I want to make sure I see it when that guy gets drafted.

Does that put you in a draft-watching mood? Really?! Then follow the event live on MLSSccer.com, or watch the embedded live stream below. And happy draft day everyone!

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