MLS 101: How does a weighted lottery work?
United States under-20 midfielder Benji Joya decided he wanted to sign with MLS to improve his chances of first-team action during the January transfer window. His club, Mexican side Santos Laguna, agreed to loan him out for 12 months and provide MLS with the option to sign him permanently for a set fee. MLS assessed the interest in Joya's services and sealed the deal when some teams expressed a desire to obtain him.
The only wrinkle standing between Joya and his new home: a trip through the weighted lottery system to determine his destination.
Joya fell into this category primarily due to his age and his level of experience. Lotteries are used to distribute (a) Generation adidas players signed after the SuperDraft and (b) draft eligible players who failed to sign a tendered contract prior to the SuperDraft, per the 2013 edition of MLSplayer rules and regulations.
This particular mechanism essentially serves as a catch-all for younger players who do not enter the league through the SuperDraft for one reason or another (Joya signed after the SuperDraft took place, for example) or any player who does not enter the league through another method (e.g., MLS determined Lee Nguyen did not meet the criteria to proceed through the allocation process despite the three caps he won for the United States in 2007 - he ended up in the lottery instead because he rejected overtures from the league during his days at Indiana).
Once the league decides a player will proceed through the lottery, the clubs must answer two questions before they decide whether to enter: (1) are we eligible? and (2) are we willing to concede the right to another player down the line by throwing ourselves into this lottery?
The reluctance of some teams to enter a particular lottery stems from the terms of engagement, according to those helpful rules and regulations:
● Any team assigned a player through the lottery in any particular season shall not be assigned another lottery player that season unless and until all teams have received a lottery player or have agreed to waive their option to participate in a lottery.
● The weighted lottery takes into consideration each team’s performance over its last 34 regular season games and the most recent postseason.
● The team with the worst record over its last 34 regular season games (dating back to previous season if necessary and taking playoff performance into account) will have the greatest probability of winning the lottery.
In light of those factors, three teams of the 17 eligible teams (FC Dallas and San Jose have already received players this year) entered the lottery for Joya: Chicago, Real Salt Lake and Seattle. MLS devised the probability of winning the lottery based on the records of the three participating teams as outlined in the rules and regulations. The numbers made the Fire (68 percent) a heavy favorite over Sounders FC (29 percent) and RSL (3 percent), according to an email distributed by a league representative.
Although the lotteries do not always follow the odds (San Jose landed Cal goalkeeper David Bingham in 2011 with a 8.8 percent chance of winning), this one did. Joya joined the Fire to continue his quest for regular match practice and pave the way for another lottery somewhere down the line.