As Major League Soccer gears up for the upcoming 2023 MLS Re-Entry Draft, teams across the league, including Nashville SC, are closely evaluating their options.
What is the Re-Entry Draft?
The Re-Entry Draft is a unique mechanism within MLS that allows teams to strengthen their squads by acquiring experienced players. Stage 1 is scheduled for December 14, 2023, at 1 PM ET / 12 PM CT. This draft is specifically designed for players who are out of contract or have had their options declined by their current clubs but fail to meet the qualifications for full MLS free agency (24 years old and 5+ MLS service years).
The list of MLS Re-Entry Draft eligible players includes those who are at least 22 years old and have a minimum of one year of MLS experience. An out-of-contract player who has received a Bona Fide Offer from his current club will not be eligible for the Re-Entry Draft. Players may opt out of the Re-Entry Draft. If they do so, their current club will retain a right of first refusal for the player. However, the player must consent before the club may trade that player to another MLS club.
How does the Re-Entry Draft work?
The procedures of the Re-Entry Draft are straightforward. Teams take turns making selections, with the order based on their performance in the previous season. If a player is selected in Stage 1, the drafting club must exercise the player’s contract option or extend a “bona fide offer”. Those players not drafted in Stage 1 will be available in Stage 2. At this stage, a drafting club is required to make a “genuine offer” to the selected player.
A notable aspect of the Re-Entry Draft is the number of teams that choose to “PASS” on their turn. This decision is often strategic, as teams may opt to pass if they do not find a suitable match for their needs and salary budget in the available player pool. Passing in Stage 1 does not preclude a team from participating in Stage 2; as they can pursue a player by making a “genuine offer” rather than exercising a contract option.
Nashville SC has made two selections in the four Re-Entry Drafts that it has previously participated in. The club acquired Eric Miller in 2019 and Josh Bauer in 2021, both in Stage 1. While neither of these two became everyday starters for Nashville, they both filled important depth roles on the backline.
With a club ethos centered on identifying undervalued MLS talent, it would come as no surprise to see Mike Jacobs make another Re-Entry Draft selection this week.
With Stage 1 set for tomorrow afternoon, I scoured the list of eligible players for the 2023 MLS Re-Entry Draft and identified a few potential targets that make a degree of sense for Nashville SC.
Jackson Conway – Atlanta United
Foward – $87,716
Conway, 22, is a young English striker with a 6-foot, 3-inch frame. Tell me if that sounds like someone else on Nashville’s roster…
He has limited experience in MLS action (1 goal in 388 minutes, ironically against Nashville SC). However, he pieced together a strong 2022 USL Championship campaign scoring 11 goals in just over 2,000 minutes with Atlanta United 2. Conway could serve as a developmental replacement for Ethan Zubak, straddling between Nashville and Huntsville providing competition for Adem Sipić.
Kipp Keller – Austin FC
Center Back – $112,500
**NOTE: After publication, Tom Bogert reported that F.C. Cincinnati acquired Kipp Keller’s rights.
Keller, 23, arrived in Austin as a highly touted college draft pick. When he was selected fifth overall in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, former Austin executive Claudio Reyna compared the St. Louis native’s physicality, aggressiveness, and recovery speed to Walker Zimmerman and Tim Parker.
Keller’s professional career got off to a rocky start in Austin. However, a defensive positioning disciplinarian like Gary Smith could be exactly the type of coach Keller needs to unlock his potential. With Laurence Wyke departed, Keller could fill a similar role and compete for more minutes if he shows promising signs of development.
Cameron Duke – Sporting KC
Midfielder – $140,500
Duke, 22, is a central midfielder with plenty of MLS experience at a young age. He has logged 2525 MLS minutes with several U.S. Open Cup appearances for Sporting. As a homegrown player who rose through the academy, he would already be familiar to Mike Jacobs who spent many years with the club.
Duke’s profile is similar to the recently acquired Dru Yearwood. He ranks highly for his number of progressive carries and plays more of a #8 role than as a deep-lying #6.
However, Nashville has desperately needed midfielders with more attacking bite that it can bring off the bench, and Duke would bring that depth. Plus, Duke would help inject more youth into Gary Smith’s midfield at a budget-friendly cost.
Matthew Nocita – New York Red Bulls
Center back – $88,200.00:
It wouldn’t be a Nashville potential target list without including at least one Red Bull. In a lot of ways, Nocita’s professional career, thus far, echoes Kipp Keller.
Nocita was selected two spots after Keller in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft and has failed to live up to expectations. Nocita, 23, remains intriguing due to his towering 6-foot, 8-inch frame. Perhaps getting him out the Red Bulls’ aggressive high line would pay dividends for his development?
On a one-year option, it is a low-risk swing that at least one MLS team should consider. Even if Nocita’s professional soccer career ends here, he will land on his feet. The Naval Academy graduate could take this opportunity to transition back to military life to fulfill his five-year active duty service obligation.
Stay tuned as Broadway Sports will have a full breakdown of any selections made in the MLS Re-Entry Draft and other offseason moves as they are announced.