January 7, 2012
Whoops, WPS misses big opportunity
Thursday afternoon in the main ballroom at the Kansas City Convention Center, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber will step up to the podium to announce the first pick of the MLS Super Draft.
Representatives from all 19 teams, a small army of media, including an ESPN TV crew, and hundreds—maybe even a couple of thousand--fans will look on. Those fans, from supporters’ groups such as Chicago’s Section Eight, the Timbers Army, DC’s Barra Brava and Philly’s Sons of Ben will create an atmosphere that is as unique and loud and fun as any for a professional sports draft, including the National Football League’s.
The MLS Draft wasn’t always like this. It turned into an event to mark on the calendar when the league decided to partner with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and hold the draft at the organization’s annual convention, which is as near a complete gathering of the American soccer community as there is. That first draft, held in Charlotte, NC had a real buzz about it, as DC United made Freddy Adu its first pick. The crowd was small that year, but has grown ever since, as has the viability and stability of the league. I believe the two are related.
Twenty-four hours after Garber opens the MLS Draft, Women’s Professional Soccer CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan will step up to a similar podium in a much smaller room at the same convention center and announce the women’s league’s first pick.
A handful of representatives from the league’s five teams, along with a small group of media, will be there to watch, along with a few invited guests.
No fans, no one cheering when their favorite team selects a top player. No atmosphere and no buzz. Interested fans can watch only from a distance, via webcast.
For the second straight year, the league has decided to hold a closed draft. No one seems sure why.
For a league that has typically spent its offseasons fending off imminent demise and dealing with mostly negative publicity, it is missing a prime chance to connect with the soccer community. Not that hundreds of fans from its five markets would travel to Kansas City for the draft, but why not let in the few from the coaching fraternity that might be around anyway?
The first two WPS Drafts were open to the public in small, but overflowing, rooms. There was a bit of excitement in the air in St Louis in 2009 when Amy Rodriguez was taken as the first pick by the Boston Breakers, and in Philadelphia in 2010 when Tobin Heath was taken by the expansion Atlanta Beat.
Both players proudly walked up to the podium to show off their brand new team colors as fans of those teams got a glimpse of what was to come on the field for them.
That won’t happen this year, and for a league that has spent its existence on the brink of extinction, that’s a huge missed opportunity.