2012 MLS Roster Rules

I. MLS ROSTER COMPOSITION

A Major League Soccer club’s first team roster is comprised of up to 30 players. All 30 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs.

Salary & Budget:

  • Players occupying roster spots 1-20 count against the club’s 2012 salary budget of $2,810,000, and are referred to collectively as the club’s Salary Budget Players.

    • Roster spots 19 and 20 are not required to be filled, and teams may spread their salary budget across only 18 Salary Budget Players.  A minimum salary budget charge will be imputed against a team’s salary budget for each unfilled senior roster slot below 18.
    • The maximum budget charge for a single player is $350,000.*
    • A Designated Player over the age of 23 counts as $350,000 against the club’s salary budget, unless the player joins his club in the middle of the season, in which case his budget charge will be $175,000.
    • A Designated Player 20 years old or younger** (referred to as Young Designated Players or Young DPs) to  counts as $150,000 against the club’s salary budget
    • A Designated Player 21-23 years old** counts as $200,000 against the club’s salary budget.
    • The budget charge for the midseason signing of a Young DP is $150,000 and this amount cannot be lowered with allocation funds.
    • Clubs will not have to buy the third DP roster slot to accommodate a Young Designated Player whereas clubs are normally required to buy that slot for a one-time fee of $250,000.
    • Clubs are responsible for all amounts above the budget charge for all Designated Players.

* See section entitled Allocation Money below, under Player Acquisition Mechanisms, for details on buying down a player’s budget charge.
** Age of player is determined by year (not date) of birth.

  • Players occupying roster spots 21-30 do not count against the club’s salary budget, and are referred to collectively as the club’s Off-Budget Players (maximum of 10 per team).

    • All Generation adidas players are Off-Budget players.
    • Players occupying roster spots 1-24 will earn at least $44,000 in 2012.
    • Players occupying roster spots 25-30 will earn at least $33,750 in 2012.
    • Clubs may elect to leave up to two of these roster spots (25-30) vacant and use $35,000 for each empty spot as allocation money.
    • Clubs may sign up to two Homegrown Players contracts above the minimum salary and similar to Generation adidas player contract amounts.

Age Designations:

  • Any player making $33,750 must be under the age 25 (does not turn 25 or older in 2012).

Domestic/International:

  • In 2012, a total of 152 international slots are divided among the 19 clubs. Each club began with eight international slots, which are tradable. There is no limit on the number of international slots on each club’s roster.

    • The remaining roster slots must belong to domestic players. For clubs based in the United States, a domestic player is either a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident (green card holder) or the holder of other special status (e.g., refugee or asylum status).
  • The three MLS clubs based in Canada – Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC – began with eight international slots, but their domestic slots may be filled with either Canadian or U.S. domestic players.

    • MLS clubs based in Canada are required to have a minimum of three Canadian domestic players on their rosters.
    • Players with the legal right to work in Canada are considered Canadian domestic players (i.e., Canadian citizen, permanent resident, part of a protected class).     

NOTE: The terms Homegrown and Generation adidas are used to describe mechanisms by which players are acquired. They are not roster designations. All players’ roster slots are determined by their compensation and/or age as outlined above. 

II. PLAYER ACQUISITION MECHANISMS

MLS teams may acquire players and add them to their rosters via the following mechanisms:

(A) ALLOCATION RANKING
The allocation ranking is the mechanism used to determine which MLS club has first priority to acquire a U.S. National Team player who signs with MLS after playing abroad, or a former MLS player who returns to the League after having gone to a club abroad for a transfer fee. The allocation rankings may also be used in the event two or more clubs file a request for the same player on the same day when the discovery period opens in December. The allocations will be ranked in reverse order of finish for the 2011 season, taking playoff performance into account.

Once the club uses its allocation ranking to acquire a player, it drops to the bottom of the list.  A ranking can be traded, provided that part of the compensation received in return is the other club’s ranking. At all times, each club is assigned one ranking. The rankings reset at the end of each MLS League season.

Allocation Money

Allocation money is a resource available to clubs in addition to their respective salary budgets. A club may receive allocation money for:

  1. failure to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs;
  2. the transfer of a player to a club outside of MLS for value;
  3. expansion status;
  4. qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League;
  5. trading in up to two Off-Budget roster spots;
  6. funds from purchased third designated player roster spots.

Each year the MLS Competition Committee determines the allocation amount to be made available to each club. Allocation money can be traded by clubs. Allocation money does not count against a club’s salary budget and can be used:

  • To sign players new to MLS (that is, a player who did not play in MLS during the previous season).
  • To re-sign an existing MLS player, subject to League approval.
  • To “buy-down” a player’s salary budget charge below the League maximum of $350,000.
  • In connection with the exercise of an option to purchase a player’s rights or the extension of a player’s contract for the second year provided the player was new to MLS in the immediately prior year.

NOTE: To protect the interests of MLS and its clubs during discussions with prospective players or clubs in other leagues, amounts of allocation money held by each club will not be shared publicly. 

(B) DESIGNATED PLAYER
The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose salaries exceed their budget charges, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player’s budget charge. Designated Player slots may be used to acquire players new to MLS or to retain current MLS players, subject to League approval.

In 2012, a Designated Player over the age of 23** will carry a salary budget charge of $350,000, unless the player joins his club in the middle of the season, in which case his budget charge will be $175,000.

A Designated Player 20 years old or younger** counts as $150,000 against the club’s salary budget and a Designated Player 21-23 years old counts as $200,000 against the club’s salary budget.

Clubs have the option of “buying down” the budget charge of a Designated Player with allocation money. The reduced charge may not be less than $150,000.

The budget charge for the midseason signing of a young Designated Player (23 years old and younger) is $150,000 and this amount cannot be lowered with allocation funds.

Each club has two Designated Player slots and clubs are allowed to “purchase” a third Designated Player slot for a one-time fee of $250,000 that will be dispersed in the form of allocation money to all clubs that do not have three Designated Players. Clubs will not have to buy the third DP roster slot to accommodate Designated Players 23 years old and younger.

Designated Player slots are not tradable.

** Age of player is determined by year (not date) of birth.

(C) SUPERDRAFT
The 2012 MLS SuperDraft, held Jan. 12 in Kansas City, Mo., consisted of two rounds of 19 picks for a total of 38 player selections. A supplemental draft was held Jan. 17 via teleconference and consisted of four rounds of 19 picks each round.

The majority of draft prospects are NCAA college seniors who have exhausted their college eligibility. Generation adidas players and non-collegiate international players are also eligible for selection in the SuperDraft and supplemental draft. Clubs may nominate players for the League’s draft-eligible list, and only players from that list may be selected.

Generation adidas is a joint program between MLS and adidas that is dedicated to developing exceptional domestic talent in a professional environment.  Each year, a handful of top domestic underclassmen and youth national team players are signed to the league and placed in the SuperDraft through this program. Generation adidas players also receive an educational stipend.

Draft Order: The Montreal Impact held the first overall selection in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft as expansion clubs are always given the top spot in the SuperDraft and the Supplemental Draft. The next eight selections went to clubs that did not qualify for the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs beginning with the club with fewest regular season points (3 points per win, one point per tie). The remaining ten positions were ranked by fewest regular season points among the teams that were eliminated in the same round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Unless claimed on waivers, a player who was drafted by a particular team through the SuperDraft or supplemental draft and did not sign with the League, is placed on that team’s “College Protected List” until the second December 31 following the draft in question, after which the team loses the rights to the player.

(D) TRADES
Players, SuperDraft and Supplemental draft picks, allocation money, allocation rankings, and international player slots may all be exchanged in trades approved by the MLS League Office, provided all of the necessary rules regarding roster and salary budget compliance are met and the trade is completed during a valid trading period. No trades may occur after the Roster Freeze Deadline of September 15, 2012 at 5 p.m. ET.

(E) DISCOVERY SIGNINGS
Clubs may make discovery claims on players not yet under MLS contract who are not subject to the allocation ranking or lottery mechanisms.

Each club has the opportunity to make six discovery signings per season (expansion teams may make 10 discovery signings in their inaugural season). A club may have up to 10 discovery claims on unsigned players at any time and may remove or add players at any time. The last day for discovery player signings is September 15, 2012 – coinciding with the roster freeze date and trade deadline.

The six discovery signings can be used to fill senior roster spots only. If multiple clubs claim the same player using a discovery, the club that filed the claim first will have first rights to the player. Discovery claims expire following each season. If the League and player are unable to reach an agreement during the season, the club that first filed the discovery retains the right of first refusal in the event the player is later signed by the League.

NOTE: To protect interests of MLS clubs in scouting and negotiations with prospective players, the League office will not publicize the names of players on club discovery lists, nor specify if a discovery claim has been filed on a particular player.

(F) HOMEGROWN PLAYER SIGNINGS
A club may sign a player to his first professional contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has trained for at least one year in the club’s youth development program and has met the League’s Homegrown Player criteria. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.

There is no limit to the number of Homegrown Players a club may sign in a given year.

(G) RE-ENTRY PROCESS

The 2012 Re-Entry Process will commence after MLS Cup. The priority order for the Re-Entry Draft is reverse order of finish in 2012, taking into account playoff performance.

Available to all teams in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry draft will be:

  1. Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years experience in MLS whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2013).
  2. Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary (available for at least their 2012 salary).
  3. Players who are at least 30 years old with a minimum of eight years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them (available for at least 105% of their 2012 salary).

Players who are not selected in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft will be made available in Stage 2. Clubs selecting players in Stage 2 will negotiate a new salary with the player.

Players who remain unselected after Stage 2 will be available to any MLS club on a first come, first serve basis.

(H) WAIVERS
A team may place a player on waivers at any time during the regular season at which point he is made available to all other teams. The waiver claiming period shall commence on the first business day after the League delivers notice to teams and shall expire at 5 p.m. EST on the second business day after the Waiver Period Commencement Date. The claiming period is 48 hours.

The Waiver Draft order is determined via points per game once all teams have played at least three MLS League games. If the waiver takes place prior to all teams playing in at least three League games, priority shall be granted based upon the prior year’s performance, taking playoff performance first, with teams eliminated from playoff contention at the same stage separated according to their point totals through the end of the regular season. New expansion teams shall be at the bottom of the waiver order.

Once a team selects a player off waivers, that club is automatically moved to the bottom of the priority list for subsequent waiver selections in a given season, regardless of its points-per-game total. Players who may be placed on the MLS waiver wire are as follows:

  1. A player waived by an MLS team in the current season;
  2. A player who completed his college eligibility within the past season, who was not made available in the SuperDraft or Supplemental Draft;
  3. A player who has remaining college eligibility (and was not made available in the SuperDraft or Supplemental Draft), but the League at its discretion and after taking into account exceptional circumstances determines the player may be offered an MLS contract;
  4. A player who has played in MLS previously where his last MLS team does not wish to exercise their right of first refusal, except in the case of returning U.S. National Team players as stated above.
  5. A player who was drafted in the SuperDraft or supplemental draft, and who after a trial with the club is not offered a contract by the first Monday of June.

(I) LOTTERY
Some players shall be assigned to MLS teams via the weighted Lottery process. 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 players made available through lotteries include:

  1. Generation adidas players signed after the MLS SuperDraft;
  2. Draft eligible players to whom an MLS contract was offered but who failed to sign with the League prior to the Draft.

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. Teams are not required to participate in a lottery. Players are assigned via the lottery system in order to prevent a player from potentially influencing his destination club with a strategic holdout.

(J) EXTREME HARDSHIP CALL-UPS
Teams may add players to their roster in cases of “extreme hardship” as follows: (1) a club with three goalkeepers on its 30-man roster, but has less than two available goalkeepers or (2) a team has less than 15 available players. Extreme hardship call-ups are made on a game-by-game basis.

(K)SEASON-ENDING INJURY REPLACEMENTS (Season Ending Injury List)
A team with a player lost to a season-ending injury can place the player on the Season Ending Injury List and replace that player on its roster, while remaining responsible for the full amount of the injured player’s salary. A player can be placed on the season-ending injury list once another player has been signed as a replacement (provided the team has budget space). International player limits still apply at the time a season-ending replacement is made (with the player being replaced not counting against those limits).

(L) SHORT-TERM INJURY REPLACEMENTS (Disabled List)
A player who has a short-term injury can be placed on the Disabled List once another player has been signed as a replacement (provided the team has budget space).  The team will remain responsible for the full amount of the injured player’s salary on the salary budget.  Note: the injured player will have to sit out a minimum of six MLS League matches before he can rejoin the team’s roster.

International player limits still apply at the time a short-term replacement is made (with the player being replaced not counting against those limits).

NOTE: No changes may be made to a team's active full roster during the period beginning on September 16, 2012 (day after Roster Freeze Date) through the day after MLS Cup.  Nevertheless, a team may obtain players in accordance with the extreme hardship rules and procedures to replace players who are injured or otherwise legitimately unavailable after the Roster Freeze Date.  Any other replacements after the Roster Freeze Date may only be made in exceptional circumstances in the League’s sole and absolute discretion.

III. METHODS OF RELEASING PLAYERS

(A) WAIVERS
Teams may waive players based on performance at any time during the MLS season.  Players with guaranteed contracts will continue to have their salary budget charge applied to the team salary budget, subject to any settlement. Players on semi-guaranteed contracts can be waived prior to July 1 of any year and free up the corresponding budget space. If a player on a semi-guaranteed contract is waived after July 1, his salary budget charge will count against the team’s salary budget and the team waiving the player will not receive a replacement except under the normal player acquisition mechanisms. Any settlement amount will be charged to the team’s salary budget.

(B) TRANSFERS AND LOANS
An MLS player may be transferred or loaned at any time to a team outside the League (subject to that team’s Federation’s transfer window), subject to the consent of the player.

The registration windows – the dates between which MLS may request the transfer certificate of a player under contract in another country – are as follows:

  • January 21 – April 15 (Primary Window)
  • June 27 – July 27 (Secondary Window)

(C) CONTRACT EXPIRATION
When a player’s contract expires, the player does not count against the roster or budget of the team in question. Subject to the Re-Entry Draft rules, a team retains the rights to the player indefinitely following the expiration of a contract only if attempts were made to re-sign the player.

(D) BUYOUT OF GUARANTEED CONTRACT
Teams may have the ability to buyout one guaranteed player as follows:

  • A Team may buy out one (1) guaranteed player (including a DP’s) contract during the off-season and free up the corresponding budget space. Such a buyout is at the particular MLS Team’s own expense.
  • A Team may not free up budget space with a buyout of a player’s salary budget charge during the season. Such a buyout will be conducted by the League and count on a Club’s budget in a manner consistent with current MLS guidelines.

IV. RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL

Right of first refusal grants one MLS club the first opportunity to add a player to its roster in the event that the player signs with MLS. Holding a right of first refusal applies only within MLS and does not indicate holding of the player’s International Transfer Certificate.

OUT OF CONTRACT PLAYERS / OPTIONS NOT PICKED UP: Subject to the Re-Entry Draft rules, a team retains the right of first refusal to the player indefinitely only if attempts were made to re-sign the player.

DRAFTED BUT NOT SIGNED: A player who was drafted by a particular team through the SuperDraft or supplemental draft and did not sign, or who as of the first Monday in June is not offered a contract after a trial and clears waivers, is placed on that team’s “College Protected List” until the second December 31 immediately following the draft in question, after which the team loses the rights to sign the player.

PLAYER TRANSFERRED OUTSIDE MLS: If a team receives allocation money as a result of a player’s transfer, the team does not retain a right of first refusal.