Examining the number of top ten picks per club and the number of minutes given to top draft selections does not tell the entire story, however. To complete the analysis, it is important to examine how each MLS team compensates their top draft picks. Because each club has a salary cap, MLS is very much a league concerned with getting the highest performance for the lowest cost. Below is a graph of the average guaranteed compensation for draftees in their rookie seasons.
Clubs such as Chicago, Chivas USA, Colorado, Kansas City, and Toronto FC receive high value from their SuperDraft picks. They receive more playing-time minutes from their draftees than other teams with top ten SuperDraft selections, and pay these new players considerably less than other clubs pay their draft selections. In general, expansion teams seem to pay their top picks more generously. This is because expansion teams received a first overall draft pick, which requires a bigger price tag along with a smaller sample size than other teams with more top picks. However, this trend could also be attributed to a strategy amongst expansion teams to commit long term to their newly drafted talent, which would require a larger monetary commitment. Consider the only four players in the past seven years who have received more than $200,000 in guaranteed compensation after being drafted: Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia, 1st pick in 2010), Dilly Duka (Columbus, 8th pick in 2010), Darlington Nagbe (Portland, 2nd pick in 2011) and Andrew Wenger (Montreal, 1st pick in 2012). Three of these players (Mwanga, Nagbe, and Wenger) were drafted by clubs playing in MLS for the first time.
Building a roster in MLS is extremely complex and the SuperDraft is only a small piece of the puzzle. Acquiring top talent from the MLS SuperDraft does not guarantee any team a trophy. However, this analysis does indicate that teams looking to acquire an impact player for a great value should approach the SuperDraft with a keen eye and view it as a serious opportunity to bolster their club’s talent. While some soccer fans favor the free-market ways of signing players in Europe, the salary cap in MLS restricts clubs from making large and high-risk investments. This causes MLS clubs to get creative in building a team. Manchester United paid Porto FC $40.5 million (£20.4 million) in 2007 for a 19 year-old promising midfielder named Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira. Anderson has played in only 104 games in the Premier League and scored five goals over the course of seven years at Manchester United. Contrast that free-market signing with the total cost for all seventy SuperDraft players studied in this analysis, and you see a significant cost savings at $6,973,785.34. In this one instance, clearly, the SuperDraft model has more value, and is a much better investment tool in securing superior talent and building an MLS roster. Obviously, European clubs do get their money’s worth out of other players, however, when they don’t pan out, the risk associated with that poor performance is much more costly to the club.