MLS Roster Rules

Player Acquisition Mechanisms

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


Allocation Process

Allocation Ranking List: 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. This list will consist of (i) select U.S. Men’s National Team players, (ii) select youth U.S. National Team players, and/or (iii) former MLS players returning to MLS after joining a non-MLS club for a transfer fee greater than $500,000. Generally, the Allocation Ranking List will be updated once a year on the day after the conclusion of the MLS regular season. The Allocation Ranking List will only be edited during the year if a player is transferred out of the League or if a top youth national team player is added to the list.

Allocation Ranking Order: 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 season.

Any updates to the Allocation Ranking List or Allocation Ranking Order will be reflected at http://www.mlssoccer.com/allocation.

SuperDraft: The 2019 MLS SuperDraft consisted of four rounds for a total of 75 player selections. The first two rounds took place on January 11, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA and the final two rounds took place on January 14, 2019 via conference call.

Most 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 MLS SuperDraft. Clubs may nominate players for the League’s Draft-Eligible List, and only players from that list may be selected.

The MLS SuperDraft order is set by taking the reverse order of the club standings at the end of each MLS season, taking postseason performance into account, with new expansion clubs at the top of the order.

College Protected List: Unless claimed on waivers, a player who was drafted by a particular club through the MLS SuperDraft and did not sign with the League, is placed on that club’s “College Protected List” until December 31 of the year after the draft, after which the club loses the priority right to sign the player.

Trades: Players, MLS SuperDraft picks, General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money, Allocation Rankings and international roster slots may all be exchanged in trades approved by the League, provided all of the necessary rules regarding roster and Salary Budget compliance are met and the trade is completed during a valid trading period.

Primary Transfer Window and Secondary Transfer Window: During the season, trades that involve players must occur during either the Primary Transfer Window (2019: February 13 – May 7) or Secondary Transfer Window (2019: July 9 – August 7). RELATED: mlssoccer.com Transactions Tracker

Discovery Process

Discovery List: Pursuant to the Discovery Process, clubs may 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, MLS 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. There is no limit to how many players a club can sign from its Discovery List.

Clubs may not add the following players to their Discovery Lists:

  • Players on the Allocation Ranking List
  • Players who have played in MLS and were subsequently waived or terminated (such players are available on a first-come, first-served basis)
  • Players for whom another club has a Right of First Refusal
  • Players who played at college or forwent college during the college season immediately prior to the date of discovery (If a player has completed or forgone his College eligibility in the season immediately prior to the date of his Discovery and was not on the MLS SuperDraft List, he shall be placed on Waivers)
  • Minors; i.e., players under the age of 18
  • Amateur members of the U.S. U-17 and U-20 National Teams. MLS shall have an exclusive 45-day window after such players reach their respective 18th birthdays or graduate high school (whichever is later) to determine if these players will be signed for the SuperDraft or be placed on the Allocation Ranking List.
  • Players who the League (1) unsuccessfully attempted to pre-sign for the MLS SuperDraft, (2) did not attempt to sign for the SuperDraft, (3) are not on the Allocation Ranking List, or (4) do not enter college will be non-discoverable for up to one year after forgoing college and will be placed on Waivers.

Designated Player Requests: If a club wishes to add a player to its Discovery List whom the League determines will require a significant investment from the club, the League will, prior to placing that player on a club’s discovery list, determine whether the club has the necessary intent, means and ability to sign such a player. The club must submit confirmation in writing to the League that if the League and player should reach an agreement, the club is prepared to make the necessary financial investment. If the club does not submit that information, then the club does not have priority on that player and the player will continue to be discoverable by all clubs. With written confirmation from the club, the League will contact the player’s authorized representative. If the League determines that there is no realistic chance of signing the player at that time he will not be discoverable.

Discovery Conflict Resolution: If one or more clubs try to add the same player to their respective 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 if he is later signed by the League for four full Transfer Windows.

If a club wants to sign a player on the Discovery List of another club, it may offer that club $50,000 in General Allocation Money in exchange for the right to sign the player. The club with the player on its Discovery List will then have five days (or three days during the Secondary Transfer Window) to either (i) accept the General Allocation Money and give up the right to sign the player or (ii) make the player a genuine, objectively reasonable offer.

Related Party Transactions

All terms of any arrangements among an MLS Club, a related party club, and a player to be signed to MLS shall be fully and fairly disclosed to the League. The player’s Salary Budget Charge will generally be calculated based upon the related party club’s contractual terms with the player (including any acquisition costs). The League will make a final determination, in its sole discretion, as to the Salary Budget Charge of such a player.

Homegrown Player Signings

A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of that 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 any given year.


USL Priority Players

In addition to Homegrown Players and College Protected Players – clubs may have priority for up to three players from their respective United Soccer League (USL) affiliates. In order to retain priority on any additional USL affiliate players, such players must be added to an MLS club’s Discovery List.

Re-Entry Process

The Re-Entry Process will commence after MLS Cup. The priority order for the Re-Entry Draft is the reverse order of finish in 2019, taking into account playoff performance.

Stage One: Players who are available in Stage One of the Re-Entry Draft are:

  • Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three MLS service years whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2020).
  • 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 2019 salary).
  • Free Agents who choose to participate

Clubs must exercise the option for, or extend a Bona Fide Offer to, all players selected in Stage One and may not select their own draft-eligible players. Should a player reject the offer, the drafting club will hold the Right of First Refusal for that player in MLS. Players with option years left on their contract will automatically be added to the drafting club’s roster.

Stage Two: Players who are not selected in Stage One of the Re-Entry Draft will be made available in Stage Two. If a player is selected, the drafting club will be required to make a genuine offer to the player within seven days. If an agreement cannot be reached between the drafting club and the player, the drafting club will hold the Right of First Refusal for that player in MLS. Clubs may not select their own draft-eligible players in Stage Two until all other Clubs have declined on selecting such players.

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

A player may choose to opt out of the Re-Entry Process prior to Stage One and/or Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft. In such instances, the Right of First Refusal for the player will remain with his previous club.

Free Agency

Free Agency will be conducted in accordance with the current MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Waivers

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 clubs and expires at 5 p.m. ET on the second business day. If a player is not selected off Waivers (“clears Waivers”) then that player is available to all clubs on a first-come, first-served basis.

Waiver Order: The Waiver 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 previous 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 until all clubs have played at least three games.

Claiming an Out of Contract Player

If a club claims a player who is not currently signed to an MLS contract, the club must issue the player a Genuine Offer within three calendar days.

Claiming a Guaranteed Player

If a player with a guaranteed contract is waived, any interested MLS club will have 48 hours from the notice of waivers to claim the player by notifying the League of the intention to claim the player and the amount of the player’s Salary Budget Charge they wish to assume. The player will be awarded based on a number of factors, including but not limited to, which club is willing to absorb the highest Salary Budget Charge. If the highest Salary Budget Charge is submitted by more than one club, the player will be awarded to the club with the lowest points-per-game average.

Players who are eligible to be placed on Waivers are as follows:

  • Any player waived by a club during the current MLS season
  • Completed College Eligibility: Any player who has completed his college eligibility in the MLS season immediately prior to the MLS SuperDraft and was not on the MLS SuperDraft list.
  • Remaining College Eligibility: A player who left or forgoes college with remaining eligibility (and was not on the MLS SuperDraft list). Such players will be discoverable one year after leaving or forgoing college with remaining eligibility.
  • Returning Players: A player returning to MLS who the League was unable to re-sign and his last MLS club does not wish to exercise their Right of First Refusal.
  • Unsigned Drafted Players: The day after the drafting club’s first MLS Regular Season game, college players selected in that year’s SuperDraft who have not signed an MLS contract have the right to be placed on Waivers upon request. If an unsigned college player is placed on Waivers, and is not claimed by another MLS club, he will return to his drafting club’s College Protected List until the end of the College Protected Period.
  • Any player whose contract has expired or option has been declined, is not eligible for the Re-Entry Process or Free Agency, and his former club does not wish to make him a genuine offer. Such a player will be typically made available in a year-end Waiver Draft or prior to the start of the next MLS League Season.

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 any given season, regardless of its points-per-game total.

USL Short-Term Agreements

A club may sign players from its USL affiliate to Short-Term Agreements (up to four-day contracts) for CONCACAF Champions LeagueCanadian ChampionshipLamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and exhibition matches. A club may sign a player to a maximum of four Short-Term Agreements each season (maximum of 16 days).

Players may also be signed to Short-Term Agreements for MLS League Season games but only in cases of Extreme Hardship.

Extreme Hardship Call-ups

Clubs may add players to their roster in cases of “Extreme Hardship.” Extreme Hardship exists when an MLS club has:

  • fewer than four available outfield substitutes (less than 14 outfield players available)
  • OR has fewer than two goalkeepers available.

USL Player Short-Term Agreements in cases of Extreme Hardship: A club may sign players from its USL affiliate (on loan) to Short-Term Agreements (up to four-day contracts) for MLS League Season games only in cases of Extreme Hardship.

A club may sign a player to a maximum of four Short-Term Agreements each season (maximum of 16 days). During such time, the player may play in any CONCACAF Champions LeagueCanadian ChampionshipLamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and exhibition matches.

Season-Ending Injury

Season-Ending Injury List

If a player suffers a season-ending injury, a club may place that injured player on the Season-Ending Injury List and receive roster relief (i.e., an open roster slot). Once placed on the Season-Ending Injury List, the injured player will not be eligible to play for the club in any remaining competition during that MLS season (including any exhibition games or tournaments, CONCACAF Champions LeagueCanadian Championship and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game). If the player placed on the Season-Ending Injury List recovers prior to the end of the MLS season, that player may only play in games for the club’s USL affiliate.

Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player

A club may replace an injured player that is on the Season-Ending Injury List with a new player (a “Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player”) in accordance with parameters below.

The club will remain responsible for the injured player’s full Salary Budget Charge. Clubs may execute a trade to create Salary Budget space in order to sign a Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player. This is the only circumstance in which a club may trade for Salary Budget space. Clubs are only able to receive Salary Budget relief (paid out of the club’s own pocket) for a season-ending injury under the following parameters:

  • The injured player must be earning at least $100,000 per annum.
  • The injured player must have suffered the season-ending injury prior to the close of the Primary Transfer Window and the new player must be signed as of such date.
  • The Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player may earn up to $250,000 but not more than the player who suffered the season-ending injury.
  • The club is ultimately responsible for the payment of the replacement player’s salary (which will not be charged to the club’s budget).
  • Clubs will only be allowed to sign one such Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player a year.

If the injured player occupies an international roster slot, the Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player may also be an International Player and occupy such a slot.

Supplemental and Reserve Season-Ending Injury

If a player on a club’s Supplemental Roster or Reserve Roster suffers a season-ending injury, a club may replace that injured player with a player earning the Reserve Minimum Salary irrespective of the salary earned by the injured player (i.e., if a Generation adidas Player earning more than the Reserve Minimum Salary is injured, he may be replaced by a player earning the Reserve Minimum Salary (subject to the Club Salary Budget). The Reserve Minimum Salary will be charged to the Club Salary Budget.

Accordingly, a club must have Salary Budget space to replace a player with a season-ending injury on the Supplemental Roster with a Season-Ending Injury Replacement Player.

An international player occupying an international roster slot who is added to the Season-Ending Injury List may be replaced with an international player.

Short-Term Injury Replacements

Injury List

If a player suffers an injury that will prohibit him from participating in six or more MLS games, a club can place that injured player on the Injury List. An injured player placed on the Injury List will remain unavailable for a minimum of six MLS games and may not participate in any exhibition games or tournaments, including CONCACAF Champions LeagueCanadian Championship and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games.

Senior Roster Players on the Injury List

If a player on a club’s Senior Roster is put on the Injury List, the club may receive roster relief (i.e., an open roster slot). The club will not receive budget relief for that player and will be responsible for the injured player’s full Salary Budget Charge. Only clubs that have or can create extra Salary Budget space will be able to temporarily replace players on the Injury List. A club must have priority over any replacement player it adds (Discovery, Right of First Refusal, etc.)

An international player occupying an international roster slot who is added to the Injury List may be replaced with an international player.

Clubs may not trade for Salary Budget space for a player added to the Injury List.

Supplemental and Reserve Roster Players on the Injury List

If a player on a club’s Supplemental Roster or Reserve Roster suffers an injury that will place such a player on the Injury List, the club may replace the injured player with a player earning the Reserve Minimum Salary irrespective of the salary earned by the injured player (i.e., if a Generation adidas Player earning more than the Reserve Minimum Salary is injured, he may only be replaced by a player earning the Reserve Minimum Salary (subject to the Club Salary Budget)). Such Reserve Minimum Salary will be charged to the Club Salary Budget. Therefore, a club must have Salary Budget space to replace the injured player on the Supplemental Roster or Reserve Roster with an Injury List Replacement Player. The club must also ensure it has the necessary roster space and Club Salary Budget available when the player is removed from the Injury List.

NOTE: No changes may be made to a club’s roster after the Roster Freeze Date (August 30, 2019) and running through the day after MLS Cup. Nevertheless, a club 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.