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MLS NEXT Pro roster rules allow … freedom?

No salary cap, no age limits — this third-division league could be wild.

Tacoma Defiance huddle at Cheney Stadium.
Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC and Tacoma Defiance

While there’s still no official Tacoma Defiance roster, there are roster rules for the new third-division league. MLS NEXT Pro just released the way the 20 reserve teams and Rochester will construct their rosters — there’s a few unexpected notes.

When the league first was announced there was an expectation that it would be age-limited. It’s not. The salary cap was expected to be tiny, but there isn’t one. Most thought that the majority of the roster would come from unused MLS players. NEXT Pro teams can be built with 24 players on their roster with an additional 11 unpaid academy players.

Frankly, the short set of rules read more like the dreams of NASL 3.0 owners, not what’s typical from MLS.

  • No salary cap.
  • No max salary for a player.
  • No minimum salary for a player.
  • Unpaid players can be up to 21, but cannot have already been pro or NCAA.
  • There is an injured list available.

What will this mean for Defiance? Probably not much.

They’d already had a mix of older players (four were 23+) and younger (seven were 18 and under). Seattle has built the S2/Defiance project in order to develop talent. Twelve of the players on the 2021 roster came through that system and all but 12 played in the organization at some point. About two dozen players came through the system and went on to be pros on other teams.

As a developmental team, the project is working.

At this time there are eight of the 2021 Tacoma players in camp with the first team. Those that don’t get an MLS deal will likely make the core of the 2022 roster. A handful of Academy players will likely be added to the group, a few Sounders will drop down regularly, and some seasoning from around the globe could wind up playing for Wade Webber as well.

Now that the guidelines are out just maybe the future will become a bit more clear.