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Making an MLS roster: Salary and allocation numbers emerge from CBA

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What does it take to build a good MLS team? Navigating some tricky rules and MLS discretion are no easy tasks.

Matt Montgomery

The release of the MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement yesterday got us thinking: What would it take to put together an MLS roster?

While we can't obviously know how to judge salaries and all that, we do have a nice view now of roster spots and allocation.

Not all of this is new, of course — we know how and when teams get allocation, and we know the basics of roster construction. But it's interesting and perhaps informative to take a closer look at what we've learned.

First, the old information: Rosters can be up to 28 players, but there are some rules surrounding that. It's not quite as arcane as previous years, so it bears repeating.

Senior roster

Made up of 18–20 players. If there are fewer than 18 players on the senior roster, the league charges senior minimum salary ($62,500 in 2016) for each unfilled slot up to 18.

Reserve roster

Spots 21–24: Four players at a base salary at least senior minimum ($62,500); no roster charge applied

Spots 25-28: Four players at a base salary at least reserve minimum salary ($51,500 in 2016); no roster charge applied

But here's the new thing — MLS may add roster spots above 28, and they will not count toward the team's budget. So if you see a team sitting on 29 players, they're likely an exception from MLS.

Let's point ourselves toward allocation, then. This is where we get some raw numbers we haven't seen in quite a while, so there's a certain excitement about this. Yes, you can jump around with glee, if you like. I wouldn't recommend it.

Allocation on a seasonal basis

  • 2015: $150,000
  • 2016: $150,000
  • 2017: $200,000
  • 2018: $200,000
  • 2019: $250,000

Additional amount

  • 2015: $100,000
  • 2016: $100,000
  • 2017: $100,000
  • 2018: $100,000
  • 2019: $100,000

Of course, MLS can give teams allocation money at their discretion, but they do have to consult with the MLS Players Union before doing so. That's certainly how Targeted Allocation Money has worked twice now. However, they don't have to consult if the allocation money given is given as a result of transfer or loan revenue.

That transfer or loan revenue can result in allocation "in accordance with the league/team split," which isn't stated. Up to $650,000 of that split can be given as allocation.

Finally, for good measure, let's throw in the salary budget. You'll notice it's not going up astronomically year-over-year; rather, it's going somewhere around five percent yearly. That's a better-than-average raise, but plenty have argued it's not enough. I won't do that here — that's for you to decide.

Salary budget

  • 2015: $3,490,000
  • 2016: $3,660,000
  • 2017: $3,845,000
  • 2018: $4,035,000
  • 2019: $4,240,000

It's a revealing look at some of the few things an MLS general manger has to navigate on their way to building a roster. All teams play by the same rules, of course — but when those rules include baked-in "discretion," the job gets even tougher.

It becomes about trying to get MLS to side with you in that discretion sometimes, and that doesn't sound like a fun task. Let's close this thing out with a quote from Dell Loy Hansen about the recent signing of Chris Wingert, which he gave in an ESPN 700 interview — we're not saying MLS discretion was involved here, but it's certainly food for thought.

This was just one of those amazingly lucky things in life that come your way — when New York mistakenly, in their ill-planned reconstructing of the team, the way we see it, they waived Chris, and they came up our ladder real fast. To Chris's credit, he called me that night, talked to Craig Waibel and called me and told me, "I just want you to know, there's one place I want to come back to, and one place only, and that's RSL. Can you go to bat and go for it?"

Craig got tired of getting my phone calls and my texts saying, "Is Chris signed yet?" Yesterday, when he came out at 10 (a.m.), he said, "You're gonna love me. I got it done."

I said, "What did you have to do?"

He said, "Well, I can't tell you, because many people had to die at the league office to get this done. But it's done and you can be happy, but don't call the league for about a week."