Though the season has been underway for 56 days, MLS has finally announced the updated roster rules that will take effect for the remainder of the year. These changes come on the heels of a last-minute CBA negotiation between league officials and the MLS Players' Union that took place just before the beginning of the season. The CBA has yet to be ratified (there remain details to hammer out between the sides) but MLS has decided to announce changes to the salary cap and how incoming players will be signed.
As part of the new regulations, the team salary budget is now $3.49 million (up from $3.1 in 2014). In accordance with CBA negotiations, each new season through 2019 will see a 7% increase in budget. While that may seem to open up the coin purse of MLS clubs, the league has also raised the hit of Designated Players over the age of 23. For a team with 3 DPs (which applies to several clubs), each will register $436,250 (up from $387,500 in 2014) against the budget with the third DP costing an extra $146,250. Taking into account the rise in salary budget, clubs will be left with just $243,750 of new budget to distribute amongst 17 senior roster players.
MLS has also reduced the emphasis on the infamous allocation order, using it to apply only to certain classes of players. Those classes are:
- Players on the senior USMNT that could transfer to MLS (think Alejandro Bedoya, Tim Howard)
- Players on the youth USMNT that could transfer to MLS (Julian Green)
- Players that have transferred from MLS and could return to MLS (Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin)
In a change of policy, MLS will keep an updated list of eligible players (which can be viewed here) that would be allocated to teams based on the previous season's performance (Houston are 4th).
In addition, the league office is now emphasizing the Discovery Claim process of signing players. Using this process goes something like this - a team files a discovery claim on a non-American, International player. When the day comes that the player chooses to play in MLS, the team that filed the claim has priority to sign the player. If a team wants to sign the same player but does not have a claim, they can pay $50,000 to the team that does have the discovery claim. That club can then accept the payment and turnover signing rights or must make a new offer to the player. All players that are not listed on the public allocation order (see above) will be open to discovery claims. This process is designed to eliminate things like the "Blind Draw" process used to acquire Jermaine Jones. .
Finally, the thorny issue of free agency. Details are scarce until the CBA is ratified but speaking on a conference call today, league officials said that players aged 28 or older with 8 years in MLS that are out of contract will be allowed to select their next MLS club, "subject to certain restrictions".
There's quite a lot of reading and dissecting to be done in the new roster rules and regulations but these serve as the highlights of changes. The move signals the league tightening up their processes for importing players while trying to eliminate the need for sudden, inventive workarounds (like the Jermaine Jones saga). Players will likely feel hard-done by the disbursements of the new salary budget (particularly after taking into account the raise of DP salary hits) and it will be interesting to see how the discovery process will play out. Perhaps the funniest gem of the conference call was during a hypothetical discussion on discovery claims that delivered the quote, "Ronaldo would be discoverable."