Friday's MLS rules release clarified an important developmental question that's cropped up in the last year for a number of teams: Yes, teams can sign USL players to short-term agreements ('four-day contracts', they say).
Of course, those players can only play in limited types of matches under those agreements, generally speaking. They can play in CONCACAF Champions League matches, U.S. Open Cup matches, and friendlies. They can also play in MLS regular season games, but only if there are cases of extreme hardship. We'll get to that in a minute.
If the first type of match they can play in seems a little surprising, it's because it should be. This is yet another example of MLS institutionally not always taking CONCACAF Champions League as seriously as they should. When we made the final in 2011 and when Montreal made the final in 2015, the tournament was heralded as vital to the development of our league. Rules like this one make us think that's less the case than it needs to be. After all, if you won't let USL loanees play in MLS games, why should they be playing in more important games? There's probably a good reason, but it's hard to see on first glance. It paints MLS's regard for CCL on an institutional level as them seeing it as a novelty of our region.
Additionally, we now know the rules regarding loaning MLS players to USL teams, and it's frankly a little remarkable that these didn't exist in 2015. They're pretty cut-and-dry rules:
- Loans must be free
- Players loaned can't be paid more than their MLS budget charge (this would close a loophole in which teams could move players to USL teams to solve some short-term salary budget issues)
- A team can receive roster and budget relief for loaning one player to their USL affiliate. They have to be under 25 years old, making the senior minimum salary or less, and their loan has to be for a full season.
Finally, what's the extreme hardship call-up rule? We'll just give you the text here, then the text of the new 2016 rules.
Clubs may add players to their roster in cases of "Extreme Hardship." Extreme Hardship exists when an MLS club has fewer than 15 total players available or when an MLS club with three goalkeepers on its roster, has fewer than two goalkeepers available.
2016 rules: Signing USL players to short-term agreements
In addition to Homegrown Players and College Protected Players – clubs may have priority for up to three players from their USL affiliate. In order to retain priority on any additional USL affiliate players, such players must be added to an MLS club’s Discovery List.
MLS clubs may sign players from their USL affiliate to Short Term Agreements (up to four-day contracts) for CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and exhibition matches. An MLS club may sign a player to a maximum of four short term agreements each season (maximum of 16 days).
Players may also be signed to Short Term Agreements for MLS league season games but only in cases of Extreme Hardship.
Loan of a Player by MLS to USL Affiliate
- All loans from MLS clubs to USL affiliates must be free (i.e. no loan fees paid by USL affiliate clubs).
- In the event that an MLS player is loaned to a USL affiliate club, such player may not be paid in excess of the player’s MLS budget charge without that compensation being captured on the MLS club’s Salary Budget (including, but not limited to, performance bonus compensation).
- An MLS club can receive roster relief and budget relief for a maximum of one player loaned to its USL affiliate; provided, however, that:
- The player is under the age of 25 (i.e., he does not turn 25 prior to the end of the calendar year);
- The player’s total compensation is less than or equal to the MLS Senior Minimum Salary (including any loan fees, transfer fees, agent fees, housing, car, etc.); and
- The loan of the player to the USL affiliate must last for the duration an entire USL season; provided, however, that in the event that such loaned player is a goalkeeper, he may be recalled to his parent MLS club only in the case of Extreme Hardship.