The sad story of Nik Besagno

(January 28, 2009) - One of the unique features of the game in America is the way young players are signed up to teams through the Superdraft. Working in the same way as the more high profile drafts that stock up NFL and NBA teams, MLS clubs pick from the best players leaving college – it’s all about getting an education in the US – and the most talented kids who have signed up to the league with a sponsorship to complete their schooling. Scouts watch the players with the most potential through college and in the combine, which pits the best players in draft against each other in a series of matches.

The biggest problem with the draft system is that coaches don’t get to work with these young players before pulling them into the senior set-up. Throughout the rest of the world youngsters have to go through a series of trials where they are watched closely by coaches, not just scouts, to see how they perform within the team environment and can judge their determination, and ability to take instruction.

The second fault is the amount of pressure it places on the symbolic overall first pick, especially in a land where American Football is the biggest sport and the first overall pick in their draft is expected to be a massive star, and will earn millions of pounds. No player has been hit harder by the burden of being picked first than defensive midfielder Nik Besagno, who was drafted by Real Salt Lake with their first ever pick in their expansion season.

Besagno was only16 when he was drafted by the ridiculously named Real Salt Lake in 2005, making him the youngest opening pick since a certain Freddy Adu. With the pressure of being the next big thing, and the supposed future of the organisation, Besagno struggled in Salt Lake and, after getting “beat up pretty bad” on his first day at training, he made only a handful of appearances in three and a half years.

A loan move to USL side Seattle Sounders at the end of last season promised to be a fresh start for a player many Football Manager fans identified as having great potential. However in the real world he couldn’t even get any game time in the second tier of American pro soccer and was eventually waived by Real Salt Lake at the end of the year.

At only 19 years of age a player once heralded as a future star was cut by his team and suffered further indignity when no teams claimed him in the resulting waiver draft. He got another opportunity at Seattle, his home town, when he was invited to train with the newly formed MLS Sounders in their pre-season training camp, but was one of the first players to be struck from the roster and finds himself without a club, set adrift in the footballing wilderness