As seems to be the case almost every season, MLS has once again altered its roster rules. With the Seattle Sounders adding eight more potential names to their roster through the Super and Supplemental drafts, I figured now would be a good time to go over some of those changes and how they'll affect the way the Sounders construct their roster.
Probably the biggest change to MLS roster rules this year is the size. Whereas last year, teams were only permitted to carry 24 players on their active roster, this year they'll be allowed to have 30. Of course, teams like the Sounders got away with having more than 24 players under contract by using loopholes like the injury list. That loophole hasn't exactly been closed, but Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer did say that he thinks it will be used less frequently.
"It's a mechanism that I don't see a lot of teams using this year," he said, noting that there is no salary cap relief when a player goes on the injury list.
How the roster breaks down is also a little different. As last year, this year's roster will include 20 senior roster spots and four supplemental roster spots. The added numbers come from a new classification of player that we'll call "apprentices." Those players can make less than the league minimum (it sounds like it will be equivalent to somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 a year), but must also be younger than 25.
Along these same lines is the way certain players will count against the cap, namely those players who will most likely be playing in reserve league games. Up to 10 players on the roster won't count against the salary cap. For the four supplemental roster spots, players must only make the league minimum. For the other six "apprentice" spots, they must also be younger than 25. Homegrown players and Generation adidas players also won't count against the salary cap.
The rules for Designated Players haven't changed, but we have finally received some clarification, via the Portland Timbers website, about how they impact the salary cap. The most they'll impact the roster is $335,000, but they can all count as little as $150,000 if teams use allocation dollars to pay down the cap hit.
Salary cap exempt players
Mike Fucito, David Estrada and Mike Seamon are all still listed as development roster players, as are the eight players just drafted (including Michael Tetteh who is a Generation Adidas player). Those 11 players would all potentially be salary-cap exempt if they made the team. Newly acquired Danny Earls and Colombian teenager Miguel Montano both were paid the league minimum last year and are younger than 25, so should also qualify. Terry Boss also made the league minimum last year, according the MLS Players Union, and could potentially be placed on the supplemental roster, as well. Then there's players like Jamel Wallace, who they drafted in 2010, and Akeem Adams, a defender who appeared in the Chivas friendly last year, who are likely to be in camp and neither would likely count against the salary cap, either.
You math majors can probably figure out that's more salary-cap exempt players than the Sounders will probably have room to utilize, and it doesn't include other players that might be brought into camp. Suffice it to say, there should be plenty of competition, and there's even the possibility some of these players could be make the senior roster and push those players for roster spots.
But just because a player is cut doesn't mean their days with the Sounders are necessarily over. If those players clear waivers, meaning every team in the league will have had an opportunity to offer them a roster spot, the Sounders can bring them back as trialists. Once in camp again, those players can train with the team, play in non-league games and can even play a limited number of reserve league games (although they can only play in two games for one team, and can for no more than three different teams, unless they are offered a contract ). Academy players are also eligible to play in reserve league games, and wouldn't count against the salary cap if they were signed as homegrown players.
There are seven players listed on the Sounders website classified as internationals. As we have detailed before, not all non-citizens count as an international, though. Players with green cards (Steve Zakuani, Blaise Nkufo, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Fredy Montero and O'Brian White), as well as players with "special status" (Osvaldo Alonso, political asylum) count as domestic players for this purpose.
That leaves Leo Gonzalez, Erik Friberg, Julien Baudet, Alvaro Fernandez, Montano, Tetteh and Earls as potential occupants of the Sounders' international slots. That leaves the Sounders without an open international roster slot, since they traded their eighth spot to the Portland Timbers for one year. Of those players, Baudet is probably the one facing the stiffest competition, as he made decent money last year (about $180,000 according the players union) and is unlikely to be a starter.
The Rest of the Roster
Prior to today, there were already 32 names listed on the Sounders' online roster. In addition to the three players picked in today's Supplemental Draft, we know that at least two more players will be in training camp and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see around 40 players participating when camp officially opens on Jan. 25. Competition is going to be stiff for spots, and not necessarily just at the bottom.
Newly acquired players and established Sounders are all going to have to earn roster spots, which is the exact scenario the Sounders FO has said they are seeking.
"There's some trialists coming in so I think the more competition we have for spots is good for our roster," Sounders Technical Director Chris Henderson said after the SuperDraft. "It’s good for our guys to come in with the attitude in preseason that they have to start out well in the very beginning.
"I think having a competitive environment every single day and have everyone competing for spots is going to make our group better and that’s the kind of environment we want to create."