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Updated 2018 MLS Roster Rules increase salary cap above $4 million

MLS salary cap tops $4 million for first time in league’s 23 year history

Vako is the San Jose Earthquakes highest paid player, according to MLS Players Association figures
Lyndsay Radnedge | Center Line Soccer

Major League Soccer has posted its 2018 roster rules and regulations, and for the first time in the league’s 23 year history, the senior roster salary budget, known more familiarly as the MLS salary cap, has surpassed $4 million.

Teams are allowed to have up to 30 eligible players on their active roster, but only the those occupying the 20 slots on the senior roster — typically the top earners on the squad — count against the $4,035,000 cap.

The salary cap is not a hard cap, as MLS allows its teams to buy down contracts through the use of additional league provided funds, called General Allocation Money (GAM) and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), as well as pay above the salary threshold for up to three Designated Players. GAM was set at $200,000 and TAM was set at $1,200,000 per club to start the 2018 season

New this year is the introduction of Discretionary TAM, which is a mechanism by which teams can spend from their own pockets to boost squad payroll. In 2018, each club can add up to $2,800,000 to the player salary pool, but only on new signings to the league. This additional TAM will, for most teams, likely be a source of funds to sweeten Designated Player deals for overseas talent.

Another change from previous seasons involves the transfer fees paid to clubs that sell players outside of MLS. Instead of sharing some of the proceeds with the league like in previous years, teams will get to pocket 100% of the transfer fee money received when selling Homegrown signings — players that have come up through individual team academies — when they are moved to new teams abroad.

MLS, like other leagues around the world, has two periods during the calendar year when players can be added to team rosters. These so called transfer windows coincide with the beginning of the MLS season and the busy summer world football schedule. For 2018, the primary transfer window runs from February 7 to May 1, and the secondary transfer window runs from July 10 to August 8.

The entire set of rules and regulations gets into every detail involving player acquisition and release, but most of it is only relevant to team front offices looking to maximize their opportunity to create a competitive roster. For San Jose Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli and technical director Chris Leitch, the process of securing players and keeping the roster compliant with league rules began in earnest last November and was completed ahead of the recent March 1 roster compliance deadline.

San Jose currently has 28 of 30 roster spots filled entering the 2018 regular season. The club has already maxed out its allocation of International player slots, and the league website indicates that the team has two Designated Players — Chris Wondolowski and Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, who was the team’s highest paid player last season according to salary figures released by the MLS Players Association. Magnus Eriksson, who was announced as a Designated Player acquisition when he signed with the club in December, is not listed as a DP on the MLS roster page. This is in conflict with the roster on the Quakes website, which a club spokesperson said is up to date with all player designations, that has the Swedish midfielder as the club’s third DP.

Of the Earthquakes two current open roster spots, one is expected to be taken by SuperDraft selection Paul Marie. The first round pick requires an International slot on the roster, but the Quakes are already at the limit. Fioranelli said ahead of the season opener that he hopes to have the rookie defenders contract eligibility cleared up in the coming weeks.

San Jose can still add a Designated Player to the current roster, despite already having reached the limit in that category. MLS rules allow teams to use TAM to convert a DP to a non-DP by buying down his contract at or below the maximum charge of $504,375. They must simultaneously sign a new Designated Player at an investment equal to, or greater than, the player he is replacing. This mechanism would likely be followed if the Quakes were to pursue a high-priced summer transfer window acquisition.

To read the fully updated 2018 MLS roster rules and regulations, click here.