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International Spots and Where to Find Them

RSL sold away an international spot forever and we want it back

MLS: MLS Media Day Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

You may not know this, but Real Salt Lake has had one less international spot than the rest of the league for the last 15 years. It is time to set that right, Don Garber. Let’s discuss.

The Backstory

In June of 2005 the leadership of Real Salt Lake made one of the most perplexing and frankly terrible decisions in the history of the club. They sold away a permanent international spot to the Colorado Rapids. It wasn’t for Kyle Beckerman, it wasn’t for Nat Borchers or Chris Wingert, it was for someone you may have never even heard of: Adolfo Gregorio.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Two - Oxford United v Darlington
Adolfo Gregorio playing for English club Darlington just prior to his move to Real Salt Lake
Photo by Barrington Coombs - PA Images via Getty Images

RSL was the first club to ever do this, just sell away a precious and finite resource, an international spot. The New York Red Bulls are the only other club to have ever made such a terrible move and did so 4 years after RSL in 2009. To make matters even worse, Gregorio only appeared in 6 matches for RSL before being released by the club during their 2006 preseason after which he effectively retired from pro soccer. Why did Colorado get the slot? Because they drafted Gregorio in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft before he opted to try his hand in English football. Oh, did we mention he was born in California?

FWIW, teams often do trade away international spots as was the case with Corey Baird being traded to LAFC, but these spots are only traded for a short amount of time e.g. one season.

Article Update

Some updated info via Trey Fitzgerald, RSL front office legend that came via twitter after publishing is that RSL actually sold a second international spot permanently away to Chivas USA in 2005 as well, but RSL was given it back when Chivas USA folded as a club in 2015.

League Rules

It’s important to understand how MLS international roster slots work to understand why this was such a head scratcher by an otherwise solid front office at the time. MLS utilizes a number of mechanisms within the league to ensure parity across clubs as well as player development domestically. While I won’t list them all out, two of the biggest mechanisms are a salary cap (unlike most international leagues) and limited slots available to sign international players (which is pretty common internationally). These rules stipulate that only 8 players on your first team roster can be considered foreigners.

If a player falls into any of the following categories they WILL NOT occupy an international spot:

  • a U.S. citizen
  • a player that is considered a homegrown player under the Homegrown International Rule
  • A player with refugee or asylum status
  • a permanent resident e.g. green card holder

Everyone else occupies an international spot.

Setting Things Right

Frankly, I am of the opinion that clubs shouldn’t even be able to permanently trade away international spots, but given that they can, they really shouldn’t. Real Salt Lake messed up big time when they did, and for the last 15 years has been at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the league with the exception of the aforementioned NY Red Bulls.

I want to make the case that now is the best possible time to reset the rules, give that spot back to RSL and allow us to operate on an even playing field with the rest of the league.

The biggest argument for this is that Real Salt Lake is potentially weeks, maybe months, away from having a new owner. That means the club will be three ownership groups removed from the terrible decisions of 2005. New owners should mean a fresh start. I can understand not giving it back to a club under the same ownership as when the decision was made, but don’t punish new ownership for the sins of the past. Real Salt Lake is a small market club that often punches above its weight. We already have the odds stacked against for many other reasons, don’t make international slots just another reason.

The secondary argument here is that it has now been 15 years, every year that goes by it becomes even more ridiculous that selling an international slot permanently was even an option, and continues to be an option. As a league, do away with the selling of international spots on a permanent basis, and maybe even on a temporary basis. Level the field for everyone.

Closing Arguments

Give RSL a mulligan, we sold the slot only months after the club was founded and right in the middle of our first season in the league. We were young, we were reckless, we were wrong. Please MLS, do it for the new owners.