MLS Player Movements in 12 Easy Steps

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By Dave Trausneck @trausneck

Sideline Signals recently highlighted the recent comments by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his criticism of Major League Soccer.  Blatter said it’s been 18 years since the United States hosted the World Cup and the country still does not have a strong professional league.

But it’s not for a lack of ways a player can join the league.  A simple glance of MLS’ roster rules for 2012, and you may need more than a high word score on your SAT to understand the complexities of MLS as compared to the rest of the world.

The more notable professional leagues around the world have a simplistic way of dealing with player movement.

They are…

  1. Signing a youth player into their academy and developing him from a young age.
  2. Paying a transfer fee to another club to acquire the rights to a player. (For example, Real Madrid paying Manchester United 80 million British Pounds in 2009 for Christiano Ronaldo.)
  3. Loaning a player out to another club. (Often done by bigger clubs with massive rosters and good players who are not getting as much playing time.  They loan players to smaller clubs in lower divisions, with certain stipulations.)

Major League Soccer is different, and possibly because the league owns all the player contracts, not the club.  Here’s how players may join a MLS club

1. SuperDraft

(Most of the eligible players are the top collegiate seniors, and some top underclassmen known as Generation adidas players.)

2. Expansion Draft

(Only done when a team joins MLS, like Portland, Vancouver and Montreal in the past few seasons)

3. Allocation Ranking

(Teams are given a ranking in reverse order from the previous season’s finish. When a US Men’s National Team player leaves a foreign league to play in MLS, the teams with the worst record the year before get first crack in acquiring the player.

4. Designated Players

(Players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane command high salaries. In order to lure them to MLS, the league allows teams to only count a fraction of that salary toward the team’s salary cap.  The league has to pay the rest, which can be in the millions.)

5. Player trades between MLS clubs

6. Discovery claims

(Clubs may make a “discovery claim” on a player who does not have an MLS contract, and are not part of the league’s allocation ranking.  In short, this allows teams to call “dibs” on a player.

7. Homegrown player

(Similar to international clubs signing a youth player, this allows MLS clubs to sign the top youth players in their area and get around the draft process.

8. Re-entry draft

(Players who no longer have a MLS club to play for can re-enter the league with a different team through the re-entry draft.)

9. Claim player off MLS waiver.

10. Weighted lottery

(Generation adidas players who sign with MLS after the draft can join a team through a lottery. Teams with worse records have a better chance. The most recent example was Portland winning the lottery for Mobi Fehr. The other two teams in the lottery were San Jose and Seattle.)

11. Extreme hardships

12. Injury Replacements

(Both of these are available to clubs when their rosters are extremely depleted due to injuries.)

This complex set of rules isn’t to suggest MLS has to bend over backwards just to field a viable league.  Merely, it suggests league officials who oversee competition have to work harder to make sure the league has parity, and the same teams are not the only teams competing for a championship year after year.

Of note, former Real Salt Lake Forward Robbie Findley was released by Nottingham Forrest last week which clears his way back to MLS. Although the Portland Timbers hold his rights they apparently traded them back to Real Salt Lake. Everyone paying attention?

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