Major League Soccer has revealed its roster rules for 2017, and while the regulations remain largely the same, the biggest changes are designed to encourage more investment in homegrown players -- those who have been produced by an MLS team's academy.
"Every offseason, we're always looking at our rules and the mechanisms we have for teams to sign homegrown players, and especially for them to be able to reap the benefits of their investment in youth development," Todd Durbin, MLS's executive vice president of competition and player relations, told ESPN FC.
Durbin said that based on the feedback he had received from teams, flexibility was needed in two areas, with the first being the ability to sign more homegrown players. To that end, the rule changes allow teams to carry a total of 30 players; an increase of two spots from the previous year, and those two additional spots must be used to sign additional homegrown players.
"I think [the increase in roster spots] is a testament to the fact that we continue to produce players at an ever-increasing rate," said Durbin.
The second area was in terms of financial resources, and teams can now dedicate $200,000 of targeted allocation money (TAM) to be used to sign homegrown players to their first professional contract. The TAM amount used will be applied on top of the $53,000 minimum salary for those two spots. Durbin added that TAM can't be used to sign homegrown players who are already on an MLS roster.
The rule change marks an expansion of the TAM program, which was originally intended to sign players making between the designated player threshold of $480,625 and $1 million. Now TAM can be used to sign academy products.
The homegrown player rule gives MLS teams that developed a player the right of first refusal when it comes to the player signing his first professional contract within the league.
The rules do not prevent a player from signing with a foreign club, and while the league succeeded in signing a player like Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, there have been some notable defections in recent years, including FC Dallas product Weston McKennie, who signed with Bundesliga side Schalke in 2016.
The ability to use TAM to sign such players is expected to allow MLS teams to better compete with foreign clubs who try to poach North American youth players.
"We continue to be operating in a very competitive international market," said Durbin. "Our teams want to make sure that when important players are in their academy that they want to sign, that they have the resources to be able to do so."
The league also announced the following changes to the roster rules for this year:
• The salary budget ceiling will be $3.845 million.
• The base salary for roster spots 21-24 -- which will not count against the cap -- will be $65,000.
• The base salary for roster spots 25-28 -- which will not count against the cap -- will be $53,000.
• Intra-league loans that are initiated before the close of the Primary Transfer Window (Feb. 14 to May 8) may now allow the loaned player to be recalled during the Secondary Transfer Window (July 10 to Aug. 9) as agreed upon between the two clubs. In addition, there is no longer an age restriction on intra-league loans.
• In 2017, the threshold for "extreme hardship," which covers circumstances when the number of players a team has available falls below a set number, will now include instances in which a club has fewer than four available outfield substitutes.
• TAM may now also be used to sign "special discovery players," whose acquisition costs (transfer fee, loan fee, and salary) can be amortized over the life of the contract.