Monday MLS Breakdown: MLS tweaks roster rules to make accommodations at the top end

Minor modifications carry mandatory increases for minimum salary players and useful amendments to the Designated Player system.
In the mutable world of MLS, the roster regulations and rules often evolve when the league and its clubs believe circumstances dictate a revised approach.

Since the introduction of the Designated Player rule in 2007, those changes have occurred within a fairly consistent framework. Sure, there were accommodations made for Canadian clubs (domestic players) and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement brought the return of the reserve league in 2010, but those alterations did not fundamentally alter how clubs constructed their senior rosters.

The league maintained its commitment to the current course when it published the 2012 version of its publicly-available roster rules last week. While the document does not encompass every nook and cranny of the MLS structure (or even most, it seems), it does provide a decent sketch of the parameters that govern these sorts of matters.

Many of the structures mirror the 2011 version of these rules, but there are three modest changes – including the introduction of a modified DP rule for younger players – worth noting as the season approaches:

CBA-mandated increases to minimum salary and salary budget: Under the terms of the CBA, the minimum salaries paid to on- and selected off-budget players and the overall salary budget increase by five percent each season.

To see a full list of the 2012 roster rules click here

This modest bump means all teams must squeeze their 18-to-20 man senior rosters within a $2.81 million salary budget for the upcoming season. All players occupying a spot on the senior roster or one of the first four off-budget slots (1-24) will earn at least $44,000 in 2012, while off-budget players in one of the final six roster spots (25-30, if used) will make $33,750 this season.

(Note: This bit isn't a change from last season, but it's worth noting anyways: any player falling into one of the final six roster spots must not hit the age of 25 by the end of 2012.)

Maximum salary charge increase provides more operating room for clubs: Designated Players and other players making more than the league maximum will now count against the budget for $350,000 ($175,000 for a midseason DP signing), an increase of $15,000 from 2011. It isn't known whether this particular increase comes as a result of the CBA – the document remains unavailable to the public – or as a tweak made by the league itself.

This minor adjustment should benefit clubs on the hook for salaries over the league maximum. The extra $15,000 may not appear particularly generous, but it does help to mitigate the impact of mandatory increases in a league where allocation money remains somewhat difficult to find for certain clubs.

Los Angeles, however, will find its path toward budgetary compliance somewhat more onerous because it has three DPs on the books. The modest bump in the salary budget hit essentially places an extra minimum salary player on the books without adding to the roster. As the Musings discussed a few weeks ago, the Galaxy didn't possess much in the way of salary budget flexibility in the first place.

Under-23 DP structure provides some leeway for interested clubs: MLS has instituted a graduated system to offer incentives to prompt teams to invest in younger DPs.

The specifically tailored regulations break down as follows, per the roster rules:

“- A Designated Player 20 years old or younger** (referred to as Young Designated Players or Young DPs) to counts [sic] as $150,000 against the club’s salary budget
- A Designated Player 21-23 years old** counts as $200,000 against the club’s salary budget.
- The budget charge for the midseason signing of a Young DP is $150,000 and this amount cannot be lowered with allocation funds.
- Clubs will not have to buy the third DP roster slot to accommodate a Young Designated Player whereas clubs are normally required to buy that slot for a one-time fee of $250,000.”

Even with the breaks afforded by these regulations, it remains somewhat difficult to envision widespread use of the rule at the moment. The return on investment remains more of a long-term goal – buy a player early, then sell him off when he turns 24 and incurs the maximum salary budget hit – than a short-term boost to the roster itself for most sides. Most teams simply can't afford to expend that type of money on a player that may not come good for a year or two.

If the salary budget offered enough flexibility to absorb a mistake or two, then more sides would likely dip their toes into these waters. For most clubs, it is a matter of waiting and seeing how the investment in young players unfolds for clubs like FC Dallas and Portland before they decide to invest precious salary budget resources to further it.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and Contact him with your questions or comments at and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.