The New York Red Bulls are well into their pre-season and looking ahead to their opening competitive games of the year in CONCACAF Champions League. The MLS SuperDraft seems like a long time ago, though it has only been about three weeks since the league gathered in Philadelphia to conduct its annual selection of talent emerging from the NCAA system. But a lot has happened in those three weeks: MLS teams are focused on getting fit and ready for the new season, and things have changed a little in Philly itself.
There were no exuberant Eagles fans that I could see on my way to the United Soccer Coaches Convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center back on January 19. I took a quiet train ride from Newark Penn Station to Philadelphia’s historic 30th Street Station, then ducked into the local subway.
When I got to the Convention Center, my first stop was the room that would be hosting the MLS SuperDraft. It looked enormous. Tables for each of the league’s 23 teams, two sections set aside for media plus an interview zone - there was a lot to take in. Part of the purpose of the draft in MLS is to capture something of the theater present in other sports in this country, and I love it. Watching teams prep for their picks, the meet-and-greets between old friends and rivals, the pick-or-trade conversations going on around the room: it looks and feels a lot like the drafts of the other pro leagues and, for all the talk of the fading relevance of this event in MLS, it’s fun to watch up close.
And it’s fun to listen too. The Supporters Groups in the ballroom jabbed at each other with chants and insults, before uniting to remind MLS they hadn’t forgotten about the turmoil over at the league’s Capital Club in the state of Ohio. The “Save The Crew” chant that erupted during the first round briefly threw Don Garber off his stride, and made supporters’ presence and feelings clear.
But when the Red Bulls were ready with their first round pick at number sixteen, the feeling around the press areas was that they were going to select Brian White from Duke University.
After a timeout that was called to keep the suspense going, the announcement was finally made and Brian White after two stints with their U23 PDL Bulls side was officially going to be on the other side of the RBNY training ground with the big boys.
RBNY 1st Round MLS Super Draft Selection.Posted by Daniel Feuerstein on Friday, January 19, 2018
Then the second round began and the Red Bulls picked Niko De Vera with the 8th selection of the round and 31st overall. He was a very happy camper. Finally, RBNY picked a missing Tom Barlow, 16th in the second round and 39th overall.
But there was a lot more going on at the Convention Center than just the MLS draft. After getting quotes from RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch to finish off the SuperDraft part of the day, I joined Michael Lewis of Front Row Soccer to catch Eric Wynalda’s forum on why he thinks he should be running US Soccer as the new President.
All ideas should be listened to and some of the things I heard were interesting. Hearing his passion for the game in this country was intriguing, but at the end of the day it will be up to the voters to decide who takes over leading the world’s game in this country.
Next, I went to survey a room full of displays about youth academies within and outside the United States, as well as scarf-makers, equipment suppliers, field turf manufacturers, and one company that was maybe the highlight of my day. I met Connie Bivens, owner of Sports Pins International: the official makers of seemingly every major soccer award in America. The company produces the championship and runners up medals for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, USL Cup championship, MLS Cup Championship and anything from CONCACAF Tournaments as well as other youth tournaments within North America. I’ll think of Sports Pins the next time I watch a medal ceremony at a major competition.
Next year’s convention is in Chicago, and the event will be in Baltimore the year after that. I’ll get to one of those, and I’ll be sure to spend more time. There is so much to see at the Convention as a whole, with soccer people from all over the country gathered under one roof. If you want a snapshot of the state of the game in the USA from an insider’s perspective, you’ll find it hard get a better one than that provided by the United Soccer Coaches Convention and the MLS SuperDraft. Fans, pro and amateur coaches, administrators, equipment suppliers: everyone is there. Go see for yourself, if you can make the time next year.