Dispatches From The United Soccer Coaches Convention: Day 3

James Bridget found some answers at the MLS SuperDraft

“Wow, there’s a lot of people here.”

The first words from UCLA midfielder Frankie Amaya, formerly a UCLA midfielder and newly-minted #1 pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. His speech from the podium after being selected by FC Cincinnati was pretty standard Pro Sports Draft fare. All the speeches were; they all thanked their families, most of them thanked God, they thanked their new teams for the opportunity, they gave shoutouts to their new fans.

It’s a lot to take in all at once.

Of all the people who were packed into the Skyline Ballroom at McCormick Place, probably less than 40% were there in a professional capacity. Most of the rest were fans. (The loudest supporter contingents were probably FC Cincinnati, new to MLS this season, and the Columbus Crew, whose team were rescued from oblivion this offseason.) Drafts can get pretty rowdy— for certain values of, anyway— but an MLS SuperDraft is something else. You don’t really appreciate it unless you’re in the room.

Two things stuck out for me today.

First was a moment from commissioner Don Garber’s press availability between the first and second rounds, when he said, among other things, that he wants MLS to “think about becoming a selling league.”

The second, and probably the big one for me, was the speech from #2 pick Siad Haji. Selected by the San Jose Earthquakes, Haji broke the usual pattern for these Draft speeches by telling his life story. Haji was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, the son of Somali refugees fleeing a brutal civil war. From that camp outside Nairobi, Haji and his family ended up in the US.

It’s exactly the kind of Hardworking Immigrant Makes Good story that’s part of American mythology; the kind that almost seemed cliche and quaint, until the past few years when building walls and closing borders has leeched into the national political conversation. Nowadays, Haji’s story seems like a breath of fresh air, precisely because it seems much more rare. More precious.

Dennie sent me to this convention, in part, to try and take the temperature of American Soccer. See where things are at and where they’re heading. Get a sense of what the future looks like. I didn’t know what I would find, or whether I’d be able to answer Dennie’s questions to his satisfaction.

With the Convention winding down, I think I have an answer now. American Soccer has a future, and it looks a lot like Tierna Davidson and Siad Haji.