Could the A-League Learn from the MLS Draft System?

Over the last few years,National Premier League players have really struggled getting an opportunity at A-League level. So why is that? It’s mainly because NPL players don’t have a clear and obvious pathway to make it to the A-League.

The implementation of an A-League Draft System could fix this, and we can already look to another emerging football league for the blueprint. The MLS SuperDraft has worked wonders for the development of ‘soccer’ in America. This draft system has been in the league for 21 years and has already been the starting point of some of the best ‘soccer players’ the MLS has seen including Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and Toronto FC defender Omar Gonzalez. These are just a few of examples of the talent produced from the MLS SuperDraft.

Borrowing from the Major League Soccer SuperDraft, A-League clubs would get a chance pick player from the NPL which they would add to their roster. This would benefit A-League clubs by adding players with affordable contracts and also provide NPL players a pathway to Australia’s top league.

So how could it work? The draft could be conducted over multiple rounds to maximise the players available. It’s also probably best to keep it simple in its initial implementation before making it more complex in the future.

A-League Draft Proposed Rules:

  1. Expansion clubs who joined during that season would get the first pick of the Draft. 
  2. Clubs that failed to make the finals would get the next pick, in order from bottom to 7th
  3. Clubs that made the finals and did not finish 1st in the League or win the Grand Final would then get the next pick. 
  4. A-League premiership winner for that season would get the next pick followed by the Grand Final winner. 

Based on 2020 Ladder Results, a 2021 Draft would have been as follows:

Round 1

1: Macarthur FC

2: Central Coast Mariners 

3: Melbourne Victory 

4: Western Sydney Wanderers

5: Newcastle Jets

6: Adelaide United

7: Perth Glory

8: Western United 

9: Brisbane Roar

10: Wellington Phoenix 

11: Melbourne City

12: Sydney FC

The A-League Draft would consist of NPL players from all over Australia, all NPL players would be eligible for the draft unless they have played at least five games in the A-League previously. This would prevent the recycling of former A-League players.  An age limit could also be considered to prioritise youth development.

Drafted players would gain valuable experience in a professional football environment and have access to resources not available to them at an NPL Level.  The rapid improvement of energetic young A-League players like Alou Kuol and Ramy Najjarine in the 2021 season has proved that there is so much young Australian talent out there still to be discovered.

What about the negative aspects to an A-league Draft? With an increase to a team’s roster, players could find it difficult to make a club’s match day squad which could result in the team sending them back to their NPL feeder club or youth side. Even if a player was to make a match day squad, playing time may be hard to come by, especially on those teams with multiple marquees and star players.  From a Club perspective additional resources would need to be allocated to scouting and player development which could place a strain on teams already experiencing financial issues.

A-League clubs would also have the ability to trade Draft Picks with other clubs during the season, for instance, clubs who are looking for more experienced players could trade their draft picks to a club who has an experienced player and needs more youth in their squad.

A draft could also be implemented into the W-League, it could work the same way or be altered to fit the league better. The daft would consist of National Premier League Women’s players as well as any other players specifically scouted for the draft. Similar to the A-League Draft, all nationalities would be eligible but the W-League Draft will allow players who have played more than 5 in the W-League to enter the draft. 

So why hasn’t the A-League introduced a Draft System? Would it work? Would it fail? Could we use the MLS Super Draft as a guide?  Let us know in the comments below!

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