January 15, 2009
MLS Draft has become a must-see event
ST.LOUIS, Mo---Back when the National Football League started opening its draft to the general public, in the late 70s, you could always count on Jets and Giants fans to show up for the event at a New York hotel. Maybe even a few fans would make the trek up from Philadelphia.
Now, of course, the NFL draft is a big televised extravaganza.
In little more than a decade, the Major League Soccer Super Draft has become an important event for diehard soccer fans. Credit the league for partnering up with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America to conduct the annual draft at their convention and credit the coaches association for embracing all facets of the game (although I wish once in a while they would take their convention to someplace warm). But that’s only part of the story of why the draft has become a high point on the calendar.
It has to do with what MLS Commissioner Don Garber calls being a part of a true soccer fan -- the supporters are part of the game, and they want to be part of the draft.
“The passion of true supporters is what drives the atmosphere at soccer stadiums throughout the world, and we’re seeing these groups continue to grow in MLS,” Garber said in his opening remarks.
Think about it. College football players 30 years ago, even, were big names. They played in national TV games, on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl and were given the Heisman Trophy, as well-known an honor as there is in sports.
College soccer players get no such publicity. Sure, there are a few games on cable TV and the MAC Hermann Award and other honors for the top college players, but no one is exactly discussing that on the 6’oclock news, or on SportsCenter for that matter.
Safe to say that the fans attending the MLS Draft have never seen most of the players picked play, probably have not even heard of a lot of them either, but there they were. From Kansas City, Chicago, Salt Lake, D.C. and even Toronto, waving their scarves and chanting like it was a midsummer home game.
Oh, and of course, there was the good-natured jeering of rival supporters, chants of “you’re not singing” and the like. The biggest contingent of supporters was from a city that does not have a team yet, St. Louis, but they let Garber know they want one and they are ready to support it.
Most of the viewers were gone by the end of the draft, but there were still some diehards from Chicago and Kansas City, and a couple of fans from Seattle in their emerald green scarves.
Those that stuck around got a treat, when Richard Jata, an under-the-radar midfielder from Campbell College, was selected by the Fire with the 58th overall pick.
In his snakeskin shoes and brand new suit that was a Christmas present, Jata was elated at being picked.
There were a handful of Fire fans left to see him get his scarf on the dais. Those that left earlier missed what might have been the best part of the show -- a kid surely no one ever heard of getting his few minutes of fame.