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Navigating MLS’s Supplemental, Reserve roster rules

What you may not know about those other roster spots.

MLS: Real Salt Lake vs Minnesota United FC
Jordan Allen is one of many RSL homegrown players utilized through the supplemental roster rule.
Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

MLS rules are known to have all the clarity of a bowl of oatmeal. This is readily apparent when one looks at roster rules and realizes each MLS team must navigate through three separate roster determinations to come to a complete roster of 28 (possibly 30 in 2017) players. We’ll take a look at the roster designations and the benefits they have to a team that navigates them well.

Three Rosters

There are three designations for rosters in Major League Soccer: Senior roster, Supplemental roster and Reserve roster. By their titles, it would be easy to assume that the supplemental and reserve rosters would be the JV to the Senior roster. This is not true. There are a number of differences between the separate roster designations, but the most important thing to know is that supplemental and reserve rosters do not count against the team’s salary budget.

In 2016, every MLS roster had 28 roster spots. It’s been reported here and by Jonathan Tannenwald of that the roster will be increased to 30 spots if a team has a minimum of 2 homegrown players. Twenty of these 30 spots are for the Senior roster. Teams can choose to fill less than 20 spots, but they will be charged a minimum budget charge for 18 spots, regardless if they are filled or not. All designated players, TAM players, and players using GAM will be on the senior roster.

As of February 6, RSL has 15 players on their senior roster. In the past, the team typically kept one or two spots open for acquisitions later in the season, and the same can be expected this season. I would anticipate the roster to change prior to the roster compliance date on March 1.

Non-Senior Rosters and the Budget Benefit

At their most basic, Supplemental and Reserve rosters have a simple budget. Players on the supplemental roster must make $62,500, while reserve roster players must make $51,500. In addition, reserve roster minimum salary players must be 24 years of age or younger. However, like seemingly all MLS rules, there are many exceptions to the rule.

Although the above budget charges are minimums, supplemental and reserve roster players can make substantially more, and this additional salary stays off the salary cap. Homegrown players can be on any of the three rosters. However, the advantage to having them on the supplemental or reserve roster is that they can make significantly more money and not be charged against the salary budget. Homegrown players can be placed on the supplemental or reserve roster and make up to $125,000 more than the minimum.

For example, Jordan Allen can make $187,500 and not count against the salary budget. Compare that to Joao Plata ($175,000) or Luke Mulholland ($160,000), all of which counted against the salary budget or must be affected with TAM or GAM. This salary freedom is of great value to any team that is attempting to build a deep roster with limited budget. It’s almost like getting a “free” player, and RSL utilizes this tool as well as any team in the league.

As of February 6, there are nine players on the supplemental and reserve rosters. Of these players, 8 of them are homegrown and 1 is Generation Adidas. Generation Adidas players are always on the supplemental roster. They remain on that roster until they graduate from the Generation Adidas program. Currently, Omar Holness is a Generation Adidas player and therefore on the supplemental roster. His salary as of September 2016, was $123,500 according to the MLS Players Union numbers. Again, this salary is not reflected in the salary budget.

The current players (as of February 6) on the supplemental roster are:

  • Danilo Acosta
  • Jordan Allen
  • Lalo Fernandez
  • Justen Glad
  • Jose Hernandez
  • Omar Holness (GA)
  • Brooks Lennon
  • Bofo Saucedo
  • Ricardo Velazco

With the newly negotiated contracts of Jordan Allen and Justen Glad, they may or may not remain on the supplemental roster due to the salary limitations involved. It remains to be seen what impact the new contracts will have.

Why does this matter?

Honestly, if you aren’t a General Manager, these roster designations don’t matter much to you. If you feel like this has bogged you down with numbers and designations, here is the simple truth of these rosters: Supplemental and Reserve rosters allow Real Salt Lake to have starters and usable depth, especially with the use of homegrown players, that remains free of the salary cap.

This means that because of the current academy, RSL has the unique ability to utilize the supplemental roster with homegrown players that will actually play on the squad. And with additional homegrown players coming through the academy and available through the college ranks, these rosters are a great tool to pay for young talent and yet keep it off the budget.