NEW YORK — A week after allowing MLS teams the ability to sign up to three Designated Players, Major League Soccer is now expanding team rosters.
The league announced on Thursday that it is increasing club roster sizes from 24 to 26 players. The two additional spots are reserved for “Home Grown” players, young players who have been in a club’s youth program for at least one year.
Rosters will now be made up of 20 senior players and 6 “protected” players. The latter do not count against a club’s $2,550,000 salary budget, giving the club’s a clear incentive to cultivate talent through their youth development academies.
“Our teams are making a significant financial investment in youth development on the local level so it’s extremely important we have mechanisms in place to allow them to sign players when they’re ready to become professionals,” said Todd Durbin, MLS EVP of Player Relations and Competition.
With the change, the maximum number of Home Grown signings per team increases from two to four in a calendar year. Clubs can sign two of these players to Generation adidas contracts with compensation above the apprentice salary of $31,250.
“Teams have the flexibility to direct the resources in the way they think makes the most sense,” Durbin said. “We have the ability to allow them to be nimble in responding to the international market forces.”
There is no minimum age for a Home Grown player to join an MLS roster but he cannot be older than 24 years of age.
The financial incentives go beyond the salary cap. Clubs keep 75% of a transfer or loan fee for any Home Grown player, significantly more than the one- to two-thirds of fees for all other players.
The next step is ensuring that the Home Grown players see sufficient game action to continue their development, i.e., by providing a reserve system of some kind.
“That’s the big strategic discussion we’re having this year,” Durbin said. “We recognize the importance of making sure that these players [Home Grown] have appropriate programming. One of the things we’re examining with the technical committee and competition committee is how we solve those issues. One way to do it is to relaunch the Reserve Division. Another way is to form a relationship with the Second Division and have two-way contracts where they’re going back and forth between the two clubs. There are a number of different ideas of how to deal with the games issues. But it’s something that’s important to us and we’re going to address for next year.”