By Brian Maurer
Świderski when he was first signed by Charlotte FC (image courtesy of Charlotte FC)
One of the hardest parts of following MLS is understanding the roster rules. There are more roster rules in MLS than most other sports in the US and they are far different from other soccer leagues around the world. To try and help break down the different rules I am using Charlotte FC’s roster to provide an example of how they work. Hopefully this will be of some help as the transfer window progresses.
The information I used to discuss the rules was found on MLSsoccer.com in their 2022 roster rules section, as well as the MLSPA. I also used the MLS 101 series written by Ryan Bailey on Charlotte FC’s website.
The full roster consists of 30 spots; senior (1-20) and supplemental (21-30). Both parts of the roster have different rules and types of player contracts that are applied.
Senior Roster (1-20)
Consists of designated players (DPs), U-22 initiatives, homegrown players that are paid more than the minimum salary plus $125,000 (this is called a homegrown subsidy), and any other domestic or international players that are paid more than the minimum salary.
Only salaries on the senior roster count against the salary budget, which is set at $5,210,000 for 2023. The maximum salary is 12.5% of the salary budget; $651,250 for 2023.
Teams have to fill spots 1-18. Spots 19 and 20 are optional.
Designated Players (DPs) - DPs are players whose salaries cost more than the maximum salary. Even though they are paid more than the maximum, they only are counted at the maximum salary against the salary budget. Teams are allotted two DP spots. Teams can elect to buy a third spot by paying the league $150,000.
There are three types of DPs; Max DPs, TAM-Level DPs, and Young DPs.
Max DPs - These are any players whose salary and transfer fee exceeds the maximum salary plus $1 million (this is called Max TAM-Level). In 2023, that number is $1,651,250. Transfer fees are calculated against the salary number by taking the total transfer fee and dividing it by the number of years on the contract. Charlotte’s first DP signing Karol Świderski, was brought in on ~$5 million transfer fee and was signed to a four year deal with an option for a fifth year. His salary would include an extra ~$1.25 million to his salary for calculating his salary budget charge.
These players can not be “bought down” using allocation money. (More on buying down and allocation money later)
TAM-Level DPs - These are players whose salary and transfer fee exceeds the maximum salary but does not exceed the maximum TAM-Level ($1,651,250 for 2023). These DPs are also 24 years old or older. These players can be “bought down” using allocation money.
(Transfer fees are calculated the same as in the Max DP example.)
Young DPs - This slot is for players who are 23 or younger and whose salary and transfer fee exceeds the maximum salary ($651,250). There are two different age groups for young DPs and they affect the salary budget differently.
Age 21-23: Count as $200,000 against the salary budget.
Age 20 and under: Count as $150,000 against the salary budget.
(Transfer fees are calculated the same as in the Max DP example.)
Charlotte currently have three DPs on the roster:
Karol Świderski (Max DP)
New signing Enzo Copetti (Max DP)
Kamil Jóźwiak (TAM-Level DP)
U-22 Initiative - These are slots provided to teams to encourage them to sign prospects who are 22 years of age and under. Clubs are given a certain number of these slots depending on their third DP’s status. Here is a breakdown of how U-22 Initiative slots are provided to teams based on their third DP:
One U-22 Initiative slot is provided if the third DP is a Max DP.
Three U-22 Initiative slots are provided if there is no third DP on a team OR that team’s third DP is a TAM-Level DP or a Young DP.
Charlotte FC had three U-22 Initiative slots available in 2022 because their third DP, Jordy Alcívar, was a Young DP. Currently, Jóźwiak is Charlotte’s third DP and since he is a TAM-Level DP Charlotte can keep their allotted three U-22 Initiative slots.
Here are the rules for players who can occupy these slots:
Must be 22 or under and cannot turn 23 the year they are signed to MLS. For this upcoming season (2023) players who are signed to MLS cannot be a U-22 Initiative player if they turn 23 in 2023.
Their salaries cannot go above the maximum salary charge ($651,250).
Transfer fees to acquire these players are unlimited.
These players must be on the senior roster.
Here are the incentives to these slots:
These players keep this status until they are 25. Making club’s incentivized to keep these young players for several years.
These players have a reduced salary budget charge. The reduction charge is the same for U-22s as it is for Young DPs: $150,000 for players age 20 and under, $200,000 for players age 21-25.
Clubs can also turn portions of the future transfer fees of these players into GAM.
Charlotte currently have two U-22 Initiative players:
Kerwin Vargas (turns 21 in 2023)
Vinicius Mello (turns 21 in 2023)
Domestic - The two primary ways players have domestic status for US based MLS clubs is they are either US citizens or they are documented as a permanent resident. Canadian players are not counted as domestic players for US based MLS clubs. However, US players are considered domestic for Canadian based MLS clubs. There is no limit to the amount of domestic players teams can have on their roster.
Charlotte FC currently have seven domestic players on their senior roster:
International - These are all players that do not fit under the domestic player rules. Each team is allotted eight international spots that are tradeable.
Charlotte FC currently have seven other international players on their senior roster besides their DPs and U-22s:
*SuperDraft pick, Hamady Diop, is also an international player. However he will not be on the senior roster as Generation Adidas (GA) players are allowed to be kept on the supplemental roster throughout the duration of their GA contracts
Charlotte still has one open senior roster spot they can fill with another transfer, unless more players are released or transferred.
They also have two more international players than international roster spots. Charlotte FC have traded for three additional international roster spots so far this winter, but have 13 international players currently signed.
Before going into the supplemental roster (spots 21-30) it is probably best to dive into general allocation money (GAM) and targeted allocation money (TAM). Both of these types of allocation money are used to help increase the amount of spending that can be done on the senior roster.
GAM - This is money that has to be spent each season, as it does not rollover. It can be traded or used to “buy down” salary budget charges from players’ contracts. For 2023, clubs are provided with $1,900,000 GAM.
TAM - This money is also called discretionary, as there are more specific rules for how this money is used. TAM can only be used to “buy down” the salary of a player who makes more than the maximum salary budget. This is why the term TAM-Level can be used to describe the type of DP that Jóźwiak currently is. If Charlotte FC were to decide to sign a new player as a DP, they could “buy down” his contract with TAM to open a DP slot for the newly signed player. TAM does rollover. For 2023, clubs are allotted $2,720,000.
Supplemental Roster (21-30)
The supplemental roster is split into three groups that have different sets of rules for the types of players and contracts that can be added.
21-24 - These slots can be filled by players making the senior roster minimum ($85,444), homegrown players, GA players, and other players who were eligible for the SuperDraft.
Charlotte FC currently have two players that are not GA players or homegrown players that fit into these roster slots:
25-28 - These slots can be filled by players making the reserve minimum ($67,360) and homegrown players. These slots can also be filled by Generation Adidas players if they are making the reserve minimum.
Charlotte FC have two players that are not homegrowns or GA players that fit into this roster designation:
29-30 - These slots are filled by homegrown players.
*Charlotte FC also have three more 2023 SuperDraft picks besides Hamady Diop: Patrick Agyemang, Nick Scardina and Andrew Pivett. In total, they have 34 players under contract. Before the start of the season Charlotte FC will have to decide which players are staying with the senior team and which players are given time on the MLS NEXT Pro team.
Homegrown players are players signed to contracts from MLS academies. Clubs can sign players to homegrown contracts from their own academy and also trade for the rights to sign players from other clubs’ academies.
Homegrown Subsidy - This subsidy allows homegrown players to be kept on clubs’ supplemental roster even if they have a salary above the senior ($85,444) or reserve ($67,360) minimum. Homegrown players are allowed to have a salary up to $125,000 above the senior or reserve minimum and can still be on the supplemental roster.
Charlotte FC currently has six homegrown players (Academy in parentheses):
Derrick Jones (Philadelphia Union)
Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting KC)
Chris Hegardt (Seattle Sounders)
Brian Romero (Charlotte FC)
Nimfasha Berchimas (Charlotte FC)
Brandon Cambridge (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Generation Adidas (GA) Players
These players are selected and signed by the league to guaranteed contracts before the SuperDraft. The clubs that draft these players can keep them on their supplemental roster through the duration of their GA contracts (generally three years).
Charlotte FC have two Generation Adidas players: