The MLS 101 series will be a "living/breathing document" in that I will continue to edit and update these post to keep up to date with the inevitable changes that MLS will make. I encourage you to bookmark the post so you can use them as a reference going forward.
In this edition of MLS 101, it's time to tie up some lose ends about MLS roster rules, along with player movement and acquisition. I'll discuss the SuperDraft, Supplemental Draft, Trades, the Waiver System and Roster Exceptions for Injuries.
I'll be the first to admit, this isn't the most exciting stuff, but it's still important to understand if you want to get a full grasp of how MLS rules work. I've done my best to make things interesting, but it's a fair to say that sections may still end up sounding like something out of a textbook. Sorry, you can only add so much excitement to what is essentially dull material. I did throw in a joke related to Batman & Robin so that has to count for something right?
With that introduction aside, let us dive in to this lesson in MLS 101. Put your thinking caps and/or tinfoil hats back on and let's see if we can make some more sense out of the complex world of MLS rules and regulations.
SuperDraft & Supplemental Draft
The MLS SuperDraft is an annual event held in early January that consist of two rounds, with 19 picks per round (a total of 38 selections). The last draft was held in Kansas City and it moves year to year, typically in coordination with the annual NSCAA Convention. Th Supplemental Draft which follows roughly a week later and consist of four rounds and is held via teleconference.
The majority of players available in the draft are NCAA college seniors who have used up their college eligibility, Generation adidas players and non-collegiate international players. In addition, MLS teams can nominate players for draft-eligible status. Only players approved by the league on their draft list are eligible to be selected in the SuperDraft or the Supplemental Draft.
The selection order of the draft is set via a series of criteria. Expansion teams are always given draft priority and get the first pick in each round. If there are two expansion teams, the draft order is determined via a coin flip. The next group of teams are those that missed the MLS Cup playoffs, with the order determined based on regular season point totals. The remaining spots are awarded by fewest regular season points among teams that were eliminated in the same round of the playoffs.
Some players available in the draft sign contracts with the league before the draft itself, but a majority do not. Unless these players are claimed on waivers (we'll get that that later), a player that is drafted but does not make the selecting team's roster is placed on the team's "College Protected List" until the December 31st following the draft they are selected in. After December 31st, the team loses their rights to the player.
Generation adidas is a join venture between MLS and adidas dedicated "to developing young domestic talent in a professional soccer environment". Each season before the draft, a select group of top domestic underclassmen and youth national team players are offered GA contracts by the league and are made available for selection in the SuperDraft. These players salaries are considered Off-Budget and do not effect a team's salary cap, making them a low risk, high reward-type player. In addition to the professional contract, GA players receive an educational stipend.
There's no set time limit for a player to keep their Generation adidas status. The process by which players are "graduated" from the program appears to have something to do with both how long the player has been in the program and how much playing time they received with the senior team...but that's all we know. There's no published guidelines and it's always a crap shoot at the end of each season as to whether a player will remain in the program or not. Once a player graduates, his salary will count against the team's salary cap.
MLS permits teams to trade players, SuperDraft/Supplemental Draft picks, Allocation money, Allocation rankings and international player roster spots. All trades must be approved by the league office and meet all necessary rules regarding roster restrictions and salary budget compliance. Trades must be completed during valid trading periods. No trades may occur during the season after the roster freeze deadline day in mid-September.
Pretty straightforward really.
Get a cup of coffee or a soda, because there's no way to make this information exciting.
MLS teams are permitted to place a player on waivers at any point during the regular season. Once a player is listed on waivers, they are available to any other team in the league. A waiver claim period begins on the first business day after the league delivers notice to all teams that the player(s) are available. Teams have 48 to claim a player off waivers.
Teams are permitted to waive players based on performance at any time during the season. Players with guaranteed contracts (I'll discuss guaranteed contracts in the next MLS 101 lesson) will continue to count against the team's salary cap (unless a settlement is reached). Semi-guaranteed contract players can be waived prior to July 1st to avoid their salary counting against the team's salary cap. If a semi-guaranteed contract player is released after July 1st, their salary counts against the cap and they will not be granted a replacement outside of the normal player acquisition methods. Any settlement agreement with a semi-guaranteed contract player will still count against the cap.
While it's not a draft, MLS calls the waiver order the "Waiver Draft order". Essentially it's the pecking order for selection of a player off waivers. If multiple teams claim a player, the team highest spot in the waiver order is granted the player. The waiver order is set after all teams have played at least three league matches. If the waiver takes place prior to all teams playing in at least three league matches, priority shall be determined based upon the prior year's performance, taking playoff performance in to account first, with teams eliminated from playoff contention at the same stage separated according to their point totals during the previous regular season. Wowzers...oh yeah, expansion teams automatically start at the bottom of the waiver order.
Once a team selects a player off waivers, they move to the bottom of the priority list for the remainder of the season.
Here are the types of players that may be listed on the waiver list:
- A player waived by an MLS team in the current season.
- A player who completed his college eligibility within the past season, who was not made available in the SuperDraft or supplemental draft.
- A player who has remaining college eligibility (and was not made available in the SuperDraft or supplemental draft), but the League at its discretion and after taking into account exceptional circumstances determines the player may be offered an MLS contract.
- A player who has played in MLS previously where his last MLS team does not wish to exercise their right of first refusal, except in the case of returning U.S. National Team players, in which the Allocation rankings are utilized.
- A player who was drafted in the SuperDraft or supplemental draft, and who after a trial with the club is not offered a contract by the first Monday of June.
Extreme Hardship Call-Ups
MLS teams may add players to their rosters in the case of "extreme hardship". What is "extreme hardship"? Glad you asked! Teams are permitted to add a player under this rule when the team has three goalkeepers on their 30-man roster, but less than two are available OR the team has less than 15 available players. Determinations on the extreme hardship rule are made on a case-by-case, game-by-game basis.
Season-Ending & Short-Term Injury Replacements
If a team loses a player to a Season-Ending injury, they are allowed to replace the player on their roster. The team is still responsible for the full amount of the injured player's salary. Once a replacement player has been signed, the injured player can be placed on the season-ending injury list. Once placed on the list, that player is not eligible to return to the active roster at any point during the season.
The Short-Term Injury replacement rule works in basically the same as the Season-Ending rule. The difference of course is that the player can return to the active roster. Players placed on the short-term injury list must sit out a minimum of six league matches before they are permitted to rejoin the active roster.
These rules are still applicable even after the Roster Freeze date (everybody chill) in September. Any other replacements after the the freeze date may only be made under exceptional circumstances with the league's approval.
Yeah, I know, my head is spinning too. I think that's just about enough for this lesson but there's more to go! In the next lesson, we'll discuss the Re-Entry Draft process and some additions to MLS rules that came along as a result of the latest collective bargaining agreement. I'll cover guaranteed contracts, contract expirations and buy-outs, plus just what "first right of refusal" means in MLS.