The futures of two recently released New York Red Bulls could be determined as soon as today at 3 PM when Major League Soccer holds the third-annual Re-Entry Draft. Stephen Keel and Bill Gaudette, whose team options for 2013 were not exercised, can have their contracts picked up by another team in the first stage of the draft this Friday. One week later, teams can choose from the remaining pool of players and re-negotiate new contracts and salaries. If an agreement cannot be reached, the drafting team still owns the rights to that player and can trade him or essentially force him to look for options outside of MLS.
As part of the collective bargaining agreement reached between Major League Soccer and the Players' Union in 2010, the draft was established with the idea that it would give teams roster flexibility while ensuring players some leverage by preventing teams from retaining their rights while essentially forcing them to take pay cuts if other teams showed interest in their existing contracts. From a league parity perspective, the top teams couldn't have first pick or possibly stock up on a diverse assortment of players.
Per MLS roster rules, there are three circumstances in which players are eligible for the Re-Entry draft:
- Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years experience in MLS whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2013).
- Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary (available for at least their 2012 salary).
- Players who are at least 30 years old with a minimum of eight years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them (available for at least 105% of their 2012 salary).
If you're wondering about the eight other Red Bulls who were cut loose after the season, those players were available during a similar but separate Waiver Draft held via conference call on November 19. Oddly enough, Bill Gaudette appears on both Waiver and Re-Entry Draft lists.
While there isn't too large of a sample size to draw from, a few notable trends have emerged since 2010:
- The vast majority of the players in the re-entry draft are eligible because their clubs decided to decline their option for the next season. Roughly 93% of the players who have wound up on the re-entry list since 2010 had their options declined by their teams.
- Teams rarely take players in the first stage. Don't expect a lot of action until Stage Two next week. Just five players have been taken in the first stage in the two previous re-entry drafts, which is actually quite a compliment for former New York Red Bull Carlos Mendes who was taken by the Columbus Crew following the 2011 season.
- Players selected through the Re-Entry process don't tend to make a significant impact on their new team. Sure, there are some recognizable names that have moved teams during the re-entry process (Juan Pablo Angel, Frankie Hejduk, Jeff Cunningham, and Clyde Simms come to mind). A few players, such as Marc Burch with the Seattle Sounders and Hunter Freeman** with the Colorado Rapids, wind up seeing decent minutes for their new teams. Josh Wolff is another player who despite struggling with injuries made his mark with DC United after Sporting Kansas City let him go along with Jimmy Conrad in 2010. It's fair to say that the re-entry draft is not where many teams turn in terms of finding crucial players to fill their rosters.
- The number of players available for the re-entry draft increased from 35 in 2010 to 69 in 2011, and is now down to 53 players in 2012.
One factor that could make 2012 different, however, is that previously many of the players who might have been available to this process were also likely available during the Expansion Drafts that populated the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact. With no league expansion happening next season, the Re-Entry pool may be a little deeper and there may be a bit more movement in both the first and second stages than the past two seasons.
**Hunter Freeman started nineteen games for the Rapids this season after joining the team through the re-entry draft. In true re-entry style, his option for next season was not picked up and he is back in the player pool for next year.