Major League Soccer squad registration rules explained (for use in Sports Interactive’s Football Manager series)

By James Briscoe (@fmscrapbook)

SO MLS is developing all the time and it’s attracting quality players every year.

Clubs are able to offer bigger and bigger salaries to star players but MLS is still far behind the major European leagues and even Brazil.

Salary caps can seem a great idea. How responsible right? Well they were brought in after clubs in North America showed they couldn’t be trusted to spend only what they could afford and now the league seems in a much healthier situation.

But Designated Player roster slots mean a couple of players might earn far more than their team mates. Not great for morale you might think.

Whatever a DP earns, only $368,750 (£235,773) counts towards the club’s salary cap. This makes signing this sort of player even more attractive lest we forget how great these big-name players can be for the short-term reputation of MLS.

There has even been talk MLS might allow clubs to sign FIVE Designated Players instead of the current three.

Moreover, rookie players tend to get paid very little compared to what they might be able to demand at a club in, say, France or Russia, due to the salary structure, and some of them do attract interest from bigger, European leagues.

For example, I’m managing Real Salt Lake, and all of my talented teenagers are on Reserve contracts meaning they can only earn £325 p/w after tax.

One of my ‘Reserve’ players on Football Manager 2015 (FM15), Sebastian Velasquez, 23, pretty much a first team regular, earns the same as the teenagers I mentioned previously. His salary in reality is ‘only’ £31,218 or £619.57 p/w (list of all players’ salaries in MLS on September, 2014). It makes me wonder why he isn’t constantly knocking at my virtual door and demanding a pay rise.

A young-ish, improving player like him, might attract a salary of ten times that at an English Premier League club. For instance, Nick Powell, 20 years old, at Manchester United, is on £12k p/w (in game) and earns £240,000 per year (just under £5k p/w) in reality. Nearly ten times what Velasquez earns.

Powell is arguably better but you get my point. I’m trying to emphasize how attractive it could be for a young player to ‘escape’ MLS football.

Tyson Hilgenberg writes in an article entitled ‘Salary Mess’ on about LA Galaxy’s pre-season friendly against Real Madrid in summer 2014 and the chasms in players’ salaries despite having a similar status at their respective club:

In the Real Madrid vs. Galaxy game, bench players for a Madrid side who may never see the field during the regular season came on against the Galaxy with a salary that meets the minimum in La Liga of approximately $318,000 per season. Players of that same distinction for the LA Galaxy, Charlie Rugg and Kofi Opare for example, earn $35,125. Then you have the promising Galaxy youngster Jose Villarreal, who falls into the higher category of minimum salary, which is roster spots 1- 24. He only pockets $46,500 per year, which is the minimum for his roster position and does count against the salary budget. All three of these players saw action against the Spanish giants.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated that his vision is to be “one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.”

With the wage structure the way it is, I can’t see how this is possible. Yes, big names on the wane will be attracted to the American Dream, but young, talented North Americans would be better off financially and probably have better career prospects if they joined a foreign club.

MLS squad registration rules (2014)

  • Maximum of three Designated Players in the squad.
  • Maximum of two non-Young Designated Players in the squad.
  • Maximum of eight Internationals (although you can trade for more).
  • Maximum of ten Off-Budget Players.
  • Maximum of six Reserve Players.
  • Maximum of 27 non-Canadian players (Canada-based clubs only).
  • Maximum squad salary of £36,130 p/w.
  • THIRTY: You can register a maximum of 30 players on the first team roster. Registration date in 2014 is February 23.
  • Roster Guarantee Days: Monday, February 24, 2014 & Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Players released after this date still contribute to the salary cap if they are on Guaranteed Contracts.

After this date players’ contracts will be Guaranteed if the player turns 24 during the calendar year and they have spent at least three complete seasons in the MLS.

  • Players on Generation Adidas or Reserve contracts do not count to the salary cap and will count as Off-Budget players only.
  • Players with Senior Minimum Salary or Homegrown status can be registered as Off-Budget players and therefor have no salary cap impact.
  • For Homegrown players MLS allow £1,500 p/w to be cap exempt; however, if a Homegrown player is making Senior Minimum or Reserve salary then they can fall into that category instead and will be excluded from the Homegrown Budget.
  • Designated Players who are at least 24 years old during the calendar year only count £4,500 p/w to the salary cap regardless of their total wage as this is the maximum a Senior player can earn.
  • Designated Players who are at least 24 years old during the calendar year and have been signed mid season onwards have a salary cap impact of £2,300 p/w.
  • Young Designated Players who are 21-23 years old during the calendar year only count £2,300 p/w towards the salary cap regardless of their total wage.
  • Young Designated Players who are 20 years old or younger during the calendar year only count £1,700 p/w to the salary cap regardless of their total wage.
  • Young Designated Players signed from mid season onwards have a salary cap impact of £1,700 p/w.

If you sign a Young Designated Player (a Designated Player who is 23 years old or younger) you do not have to buy the third DP roster slot.

You can pay them as much as you can afford as their salary is exempt from the MLS club salary budget rule.

So pick your Designated Players wisely. They might as well be your very best squad members as you can almost buy whoever you want. Don’t waste these slots.

The Designated Player Rule aka the ‘Beckham Rule’ (2007)

Wikipedia describes it: “The rule allows each MLS franchise to sign players that would be considered outside of the team’s salary cap (either by offering the player higher wages or by paying a transfer fee for the player), allowing MLS teams to compete for star players in the international soccer market.

David Beckham was the first player signed under this rule, signing a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy with guaranteed annual salary of £4.16m (wow).

Kaka (Orlando City – 2014) is currently the best-paid Designated Player in MLS with a guaranteed compensation of £4.6m.

It is probably the most promising of all the squad registration rules for me as it means I have an ounce of freedom to sign a variety of special players, such as vastly experienced and developed players, and wonderkids who can improve the quality of my squad.

The way I see it, Designated Players are in other words, ‘luxury players’. You can have two Designated Players but if you pay £95,907 of your ‘allocation funds’, which is dispersed to all MLS clubs without a third Designate Player slot, you can have a third Designated Player slot.


For clubs based in the United States, a domestic player is either a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident (green card holder) or the holder of other special status (e.g., refugee or asylum status).

The three MLS clubs based in Canada – Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC – began with eight international slots, but their domestic slots may be filled with either Canadian or U.S. domestic players.

For the 2014 MLS season, the compliance date for international roster slots was March 1, 2014.

Off-Budget Players

Spots 21-30 are referred to as off-budget players and don’t count against the cap. Generation adidas signings, like Seattle’s first-round pick Damion Lowe, are automatically off-budget players.

Squad salary cap

This has increased every season since the rule’s 2007 inception. This year the salary cap is $3.1 million, up from $2.95 million. Only players on the senior roster (spots 1-20) count against the cap.

Homegrown players

Clubs may sign up to two Homegrown Players contracts above the minimum salary and similar to Generation adidas player contract amounts.


Football Manager 2015 (sports interactive)

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