Friday May 1st, 2015

Nearly two months after the start of its regular season, Major League Soccer on Friday afternoon unveiled its roster rules and regulations for the 2015 campaign, which was saved by a last-minute collective bargaining agreement.

That CBA still hasn’t been ratified by the MLS Players Union membership, but the league is moving ahead based upon the terms reached in early March.

MLS executive VP of player relations and competition Todd Durbin said the league had been operating under the old rules until Friday, even though each of the 20 clubs was in compliance on opening day. The new regulations governing player discovery and allocation entered effect Friday.

Under the new CBA, each team will play under a salary budget of $3.49 million (covering the first 18-20 players on a roster), up from $3.1 million last year. That budget is expected to increase an additional seven percent annually through 2019.

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Designated Players have become more expensive. Those over the age of 23 will count $436,250 against a team’s budget compared to $387,500 in 2014. A DP aged 21-23 will count $200,000 against a budget and a one 20 or younger will cost $150,000. Their salaries, above those charges, will be paid by the individual club.

There still will be a limit of three DPs per club—a club using the third slot will pay $150,000 into a pool disbursed to teams with fewer than three DPs. The DP rule, instituted in 2007, is not subject to the CBA.

Elsewhere, the regulations represent an effort by MLS to streamline the process through which teams identify and sign new players, thus avoiding (hopefully) the “blind-draw” fiasco that sent Jermaine Jones to the New England Revolution rather than the Chicago Fire last year.

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Transparency, which MLS commissioner Don Garber has been promising for some time, was a factor as well. For example, MLS now will post a list of players subject to the allocation process, leaving the rest open to discovery claims. There’s been ambiguity in the past regarding some big-name players, like Clint Dempsey, who bypassed the allocation order, which is set at the beginning of each season in reverse order of finish.

Addressing the delayed release, league president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said, “We waited to announce the release of the rules because we wanted do it in combination with these new policies in the allocation and discovery processes. While we had done some work on those…prior to the commencement of the CBA negotiations, we needed to wait until the end of the CBA negotiation and the finalization of that agreement to really begin to finalize these policies.”

Here are a few more key components of the 2015 regulations:

Roster size

First-team squads will be limited to 28 players, all of whom are eligible for selection to an 18-man, game-day roster. The roster limit was 30 in 2014. Players occupying spots 21-28 don’t count against the budget and will earn $50,000-$60,000 each.

Allocation ranking and discovery

Players subject to the allocation ranking fall into one of three categories: “select” U.S. national team players, “elite youth” U.S. internationals and former MLS players returning to the league who initially left for a transfer fee greater than $500,000. Under those guidelines, the list of players subject to the allocation order in 2015 contains: 

That means, as Abbott confirmed Friday, that Cristiano Ronaldo (and anyone else not mentioned above, including other U.S. players) is “discoverable.” The allocation order, as of May 1, goes as follows:

Clubs are permitted to have up to seven unsigned players on their discovery lists. If one or more clubs attempts to add the same player, priority will fall to the team that listed the player first. If the claims occurred on the same day, the team with the fewer points per game during the current season will have priority. If Team A wants to sign a player listed by Team B, Team A may offer $50,000 in allocation funds to Team B in compensation. Team B must then either accept the money or make a “genuine, objectively reasonable offer” to the player.

In other words, no more blind draws or lotteries. However, MLS will not publicize the discovery lists. Drafted or draft–eligible players, as well as homegrown players are exempt from the discovery process.

Free agency and re-entry draft

Players aged 28 or older with eight year of MLS service who are out of contract or didn’t have their options picked up will be allowed to select their next MLS club, “subject to certain restrictions,” according to MLS. The league said that additional details will be released once the CBA is ratified.

The re-entry draft, which was instituted in 2010 in order to provide veterans with expired contracts or rejected options an opportunity to move elsewhere in MLS at the same or similar salary, will continue.

In stage one of the re-entry draft, players at least 23 years old with at least three years of MLS experience whose options weren’t picked up will be available at their option price, and out-of-contract players aged at least 25 with four years of experience will be available at their most recent salary. In stage two, a club choosing one of those players will be permitted to negotiate a new contract. Undrafted players will be available on a “first come, first serve basis.”

“Any time you have league salary budgets or salary caps, which is true of all North American sports leagues, there are going to be detailed rules, and no league in North America is able to reduce their rules to a single page or a single soundbyte,” Abbott said. “So in that regard, while I believe the rules are very detailed, I think they’re very clear and, as they’re now going to be presented on the website, understandable both by journalists—people in the media—and by our fans.”

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