2015 MLS Player Rules and Regulations Summary
I. MLS ROSTER COMPOSITION
A Major League Soccer club’s first team roster is comprised of up to 28 players. All 28 players are eligible for selection to each 18-player game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs.
In addition to the salary budget, each MLS Club spends additional funds on player compensation including money from a league-wide allocation pool (Allocation Money), the cost of Designated Players outside the salary budget, and money spent on the Supplemental Roster (players 21-28).
Salary & Budget:
Players occupying roster spots 1-20 count against the club’s 2015 salary budget of $3,490,000, and are referred to collectively as the club’s Senior Roster.
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 spot below 18.
The maximum budget charge for a single player is $436,250.*
* 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.
In 2015, a total of 160 international roster spots are divided among the 20 clubs. In 2008, each MLS Club was given the right to have eight international players on their roster and expansion Clubs were given the right to have eight international spots for their inaugural season. These spots are tradable, such that some clubs may have more than eight and some clubs may have less than eight. There is no limit on the number of international roster spots on each club’s roster.
The remaining roster spots must be filled by Domestic Players. For clubs based in the United States, a Domestic Player is 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 -- the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC -- were given eight international roster spots when they joined the League, but their domestic spots 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 roster.
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).
II. PLAYER ACQUISITION MECHANISMS
MLS teams may acquire players and add them to their rosters via the following mechanisms:
(A) ALLOCATION PROCESS
The Allocation Process is the mechanism used to determine which MLS Club has first priority to acquire a player listed on the Allocation Ranking List. The list will consist of (i) select U.S. Men’s National Team players, (ii) elite youth U.S. National Team players, or (iii) former MLS players returning to MLS after joining a non-MLS club for a transfer fee greater than $500,000.
The Allocation Ranking Order is set by taking the reverse order of the club’s standings at the end of each MLS Season, taking playoff performance into account, with the new expansion clubs at the top of the order.
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 is money that is available to a club in addition to its salary budget. Each MLS club receives an annual allotment of Allocation Money. In 2015, that allotment is $150,000 per club.
A club will also receive Allocation Money in the following cases:
(1) Failure to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
(2) The transfer of a club’s player to another club outside of MLS.
(3) Qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The League will also provide all clubs that don’t have a third Designated Player an equal amount of Allocation Money from the funds collected by the League for the purchase of the third Designated Player spots (as described further below). In any year that the League adds an expansion club or clubs, (i) all clubs will receive an equal amount of Allocation Money and (ii) any club that loses a player in the expansion draft will receive additional Allocation Money. New expansion clubs receive a separate amount of Allocation Money for their inaugural season.
Allocation Money can be traded by clubs. Allocation Money can be used to “buy-down” a player’s salary budget charge as part of managing a team’s roster, including buying a salary budget charge below the League maximum of $436,250. For example, a team may “buy down” a player earning $450,000 to a budget charge of $250,000 by using $200,000 of Allocation Money.
The Allocation Money can also be applied in the following circumstances:
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.
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.
Targeted Allocation Money
Announced on July 8, 2015, each MLS club will receive $100,000 per year for the next five years ($500,000 total) in additional funds, referred to as Targeted Allocation Money, to invest in their roster outside of the player salary budget.
Targeted Allocation Money may be used in four ways:
MLS clubs may bring forward a portion or all of their allotted Targeted Allocation Money, up to $500,000, to be used in a single season on up to three players.
Targeted Allocation Money and general Allocation Money may not be used in combination when signing or re-signing a player, or when buying down the budget charge of a Designated Player. Either Targeted Allocation Money or general Allocation Money may be used on a player in a single season, not both.
While MLS clubs are not required to use their full $100,000 each season, they are required to use the remaining amount (of the annual $100,000) during the following 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 the maximum budget charge, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player’s budget charge. Designated Players may be new players signed to MLS via the Allocation Ranking List, Discovery Process or can be re-signed existing players on a team’s roster.
In 2015, a Designated Player over the age of 23** will carry a salary budget charge of $436,250, unless the player joins his club after the opening of the Secondary Transfer Window, in which case his budget charge will be $218,125.
A Designated Player 20 years old or younger** is charged $150,000 against the club’s salary budget and a Designated Player 21-23 years old** is charged $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 signing of a young Designated Player (23 years old and younger) after the opening of the Secondary Transfer Window is $150,000 and this amount cannot be lowered with allocation funds.
Each club has two Designated Player spots and clubs are allowed to “purchase” a third Designated Player spot for an annual fee of $150,000 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 spot to accommodate Designated Players 23 years old and younger.
Designated Player spots are not tradable.
** Age of player is determined by year (not date) of birth.
The 2015 MLS SuperDraft consisted of four rounds for a total of 84 player selections. The first two rounds took place on Jan. 15 in Philadelphia and the final two rounds took place on Jan. 20 via conference call.
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. 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 collegiate underclassmen and youth national team players are signed by the league and placed in the SuperDraft through this program. Generation adidas players may also receive an education stipend. Importantly, Generation adidas players are on a club’s Supplemental Roster and are not charged against the team’s salary budget.
Draft Order: The top two selections in 2015 went to the two new expansion teams. The following selections went to the clubs that did not qualify for the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs beginning with the club with fewest regular season points (three points per win, one point per tie). The remaining 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 and did not sign with the League, is placed on that team’s “College Protected List” until December 31st of the year after the draft, after which the team loses the rights to the player.
Players, SuperDraft picks, Allocation Money, Allocation Rankings and International Player Spots 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. During the season trades that involve players must occur during either the Primary Transfer Window or Secondary Transfer Window.
(E) DISCOVERY PROCESS
Pursuant to the Discovery Process, clubs scout and sign players who are not yet under contract to MLS and who are not subject to another assignment mechanism (e.g. Allocation process, SuperDraft). To sign a player through the Discovery Process, the club must first place the player on its Discovery List. A club may have up to seven unsigned players on its Discovery List at any time and may remove or add players at any time. A club may sign up to six players a year from its Discovery List to its senior roster (expansion teams may sign up to 10 in their inaugural season).
If one or more clubs try to add the same player to their Discovery Lists, the club that filed the claim first will have the priority right to sign the player. If one or more clubs submit a discovery request on the same day, then the club with the lowest points-per-game in the current MLS regular season (all clubs must have played a minimum of three regular season games) will have the priority right to sign the player.
If a club attempts to sign a player on its Discovery List and is unable to do so, the club retains the Right of First Refusal to acquire the player in the event he is later signed by the League.
If a club wants to sign a player on the Discovery List of another team, it may offer the team $50,000 in Allocation Money in exchange for the right to sign the player. The team with the player on its Discovery List will then either (i) have to accept the Allocation Money and give up the right to sign the player or (ii) make the player a genuine, objectively reasonable offer.
Special Discovery Players:
In general, the total amount of the acquisition cost of a player is charged against the salary budget in the year in which it is paid. For one player on a club’s roster (a “Special Discovery Player”), a club is able to amortize the total amount of acquisition costs (transfer fee) over the term of the player’s contract. The amortized amount and the player’s salary cannot exceed the Maximum Salary Budget Charge.
Note: In order for MLS clubs to maintain the confidentiality from other MLS clubs of their recruiting of 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 been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. 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) PLAYER MOVEMENT
(1) RE-ENTRY PROCESS
The Re-Entry Process will commence after MLS Cup. The priority order for the Re-Entry Draft is reverse order of finish in 2015, taking into account playoff performance.
Players that are available to all teams in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft are:
Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years of MLS experience whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2016).
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 2015 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.
(2) FREE AGENCY
Players 28 years of age and with eight years of MLS service who are out of contract, or have not had their option exercised, will have the ability to select their MLS club, subject to certain restrictions.
More details on the Free Agency Process will be released upon the official ratification of the CBA.
A club may place a player on Waivers at any time during the regular season at which point he is made available to all other clubs. The Waiver Claiming Period shall commence on the first business day after the League delivers notice to teams and expires at 5 p.m. ET on the second business day after the Waiver Period Commencement Date.
The Waiver Draft order is based on points per game once all clubs have played at least three MLS League games. If the Waiver takes place prior to all clubs playing in at least three League games, priority is granted based upon the prior year’s performance, taking playoff performance first, with clubs eliminated from playoff contention at the same stage separated according to their point totals through the end of the regular season. New expansion clubs shall be at the bottom of the Waiver Order.
Once a club 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:
(i) A player waived by an MLS club in the current season;
(ii) A player who completed his college eligibility within the past season, who was not made available in the SuperDraft;
(iii) A player who has remaining college eligibility (and was not made available in the SuperDraft), only after the League at its discretion and after taking into account exceptional circumstances determines the player may be offered an MLS contract;
(iv) A player who has played in MLS previously where his last MLS team does not wish to exercise their right of first refusal; and
(v) A player who was drafted in the SuperDraft, and who after a trial with the club is not offered a contract as of the date following the first Regular Season match of the club which drafted him.
(J) EXTREME HARDSHIP CALL-UPS
Clubs may add players to their roster in cases of “extreme hardship” as follows: (1) a club with three goalkeepers on its 28-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 and such players may not earn more than the minimum salary unless the club has available salary budget space.
(K) SEASON-ENDING INJURY REPLACEMENTS (Season Ending Injury List)
A club 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 club 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 club has budget space). The club will remain responsible for the full amount of the injured player’s salary on the salary budget. Note: the injured player is not permitted to play a minimum of six MLS League matches before he can rejoin the team’s roster.
An international player with a season-ending or short-term injury may be replaced with an international player.
NOTE: No changes may be made to a club's roster during the period beginning on September 16, 2015 (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.
(III.) METHODS OF RELEASING PLAYERS
Clubs 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 club 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 continue to count against the team’s salary budget. Any settlement amount will be charged to the club’s salary budget.
(B) TRANSFERS AND LOANS
An MLS player may be transferred or loaned at any time to a club outside the League (subject to that club’s Federation’s transfer window), and subject to the consent of the player. Upon loaning a player, Clubs will receive roster relief and budget space, subject to the terms of the loan.
The registration windows – the dates between which MLS may request the transfer certificate of a player under contract in another country – are as follows:
Primary Window - February 18 – May 12
Secondary Window - July 8 – August 6
INTRALEAGUE LOANS: Teams may loan a player to another MLS club subject to the following:
(i) The player must be 24 years old or younger at the time of the loan.
(ii) Each MLS club may only loan one player per season.
(iii) The loan must be initiated during the Primary or Secondary Transfer Window.
(iv) The player must remain with his new club for the entire MLS Season.
(v) The player may not compete against his former club during the MLS Season while on loan
(includes MLS games and all other competitions).
(vi) Intraleague loans may include an option to make them permanent.
(C) CONTRACT EXPIRATION
When a player’s contract expires, the player does not count against the roster or budget of the club in question. Subject to the Re-Entry and Free Agent rules, a club retains the rights to the player indefinitely following the expiration of a contract provided attempts were made to re-sign the player.
(D) BUYOUT OF GUARANTEED CONTRACT
Clubs may have the ability to buy out one player who has a Guaranteed Contract. Details follow below:
(IV.) RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL
An MLS club has priority over other MLS clubs -- known as a Right of First Refusal -- to add a player to its roster in the following circumstances:
OUT OF CONTRACT PLAYERS / OPTIONS NOT PICKED UP: In the event a player is out of contract (including as a result of not exercising his option) and his current team was unable to re-sign him. This right is subject to the Re-Entry Draft and Free Agency rules.
COLLEGE PROTECTED: A player who was selected in the SuperDraft, provided his club offered him a contract and the contract offer was refused by the player. In the event his team does not offer him a contract after being on trial, the player will be placed on Waivers on the date following the drafting club’s first Regular Season game. If no club is prepared to sign him off Waivers, the player will be placed on the drafting team’s “College Protected List” until the December 31 in the year following the draft in question, after which date the team loses the rights to sign the player.
OTHER UNSIGNED PLAYERS - Players who were (i) on a club’s roster who that club attempted, but were unable, to resign at the expiration of their contract or (ii) on a club’s Discovery List and who that club attempted, but were unable, to sign.
In both cases, the club who attempted to sign the player maintains a Right of First Refusal to acquire the player in the event he is subsequently signed to an MLS contract. Recent examples include the New England Revolution’s Juan Agudelo and Sporting Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza, two players who returned to MLS after playing in abroad.
Holding a Right of First Refusal applies only within MLS and does not indicate holding of the player’s International Transfer Certificate.