Let's Build an MLS Roster: Homegrown Players
So far, we’ve talked about what a designated player is, and who and who is not taking up an international player spot on the roster. So far, so good. Today, we’re going to make things a bit more complicated and discuss homegrown players.
The Homegrown Player
What exactly is a homegrown player? Aren’t all players homegrown? Are MLS teams growing players in labs? If home is where the heart is, aren’t we all homegrown players?
To put it simply, a homegrown player is a player that signs a professional contract with an MLS team and meets the following criteria:
- Has spent at least one year in that same team’s academy system,
- Lived in the team’s territory
- “Has met the necessary training and retention requirements”
Nobody, outside of MLS officials, understands what “has met the necessary training and retention requirements” actually means. As such, we will ignore that for now and look at the first two criteria.
So a homegrown player is a player that has spent at least one year in your academy, that’s pretty easy! So, why does it have its own special name?
MLS has a whole host of rules about how a player can sign with a new MLS team. It feels like there are a dozen different mechanisms and drafts. Just like the NFL and MLB, there is a player draft known as the “SuperDraft” for new, young players entering the league. Most of these players are college players and others are playing in summer amateur leagues like the PDL (Cincinnati Dutch Lions) or the NPSL (Detroit City FC).
The homegrown player rule makes sure MLS teams are able to sign their academy players without having to subject them to the draft. Otherwise, there would be no point in running an academy if another team could come in and draft your players!
So, homegrown players are academy players who have lived in the teams region that don’t have to go through the draft to end up on the roster of the team that trained them. That’s probably simple enough, right? Well, let's throw in another wrench, the homegrown player won’t count against the salary cap.
Salary Cap Impact
If you remember from the previous entries in this series, an MLS roster is made up of between 18 and 30 players. And it turns out, the “roster spot number” so-to-speak, actually matters.
There are Senior Roster spots, which are spots 1-20. And there are Supplemental Roster Spots, 21-24.
If a homegrown player takes up a senior roster spot, again that is spots 1 through 20, their salary will count against the salary cap. But if they take up a supplemental roster spot, spots 21-24, their salary doesn’t count against the salary cap!
Quick note here, anyone in a roster spot between 1 and 20 has to be paid a minimum of $67,500 a year, and a maximum of $504,375. If they go over the $504,375 number, they have to be a designated player. For anyone in roster spot between 21 and 24, it’s the same minimum but the maximum comes down to $192,500.
Before we continue, let's recap:
MLS roster of 18 to 30 dudes. Spots 1-20 are senior roster spots, players here are making between $67,500 and $504,375 a year, unless they are a designated player. A homegrown player is a player that has spent at least one year with an MLS team’s academy and is signed to that same MLS team without having to go through the draft. If the Homegrown player takes up a roster spot between 1 and 20, their salary counts against the salary cap of $4,035,000. If the homegrown player takes up a roster spot between 21 and 24, they do not count against the salary cap and make between $67,500 and $192,500 a year.
Ok, this isn’t too bad. It’s tricky, and there are a lot of numbers, but hopefully it is starting to make sense.
As it turns out, you can add homegrown players to roster spots 25 through 30 as well! These are known as the “Reserve Roster Spots”, and they are subject to slightly different rules because why should things be simple.
Roster Spots 25 through 30 have a lower minimum salary, $54,500, players in these spots have to be 24 years old or younger, and roster spots 29 and 30 are required to be players signed to homegrown contracts.
Ok that wasn’t too bad, at least MLS didn’t add some weird extra budget of monopoly money to make things . . . Oh wait no no no no, I know where this is going no no no no no no no.
Homegrown Player Subsidy
MLS teams may use up to $200,000 of their currently available Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to sign new Homegrown Players to their first MLS contract. Targeted Allocation Money cannot be used on a Homegrown Player previously signed to MLS.
Sure. Why not. Let’s not worry about what TAM is right now, but know that you can use up to $200,000 of it to sign homegrown players if they will occupy roster spots 21 through 30.
Ok, the final final recap:
MLS roster of 18 to 30 dudes. Spots 1-20 are senior roster spots, players here are making between $67,500 and $504,375 a year, unless they are a designated player. A homegrown player is a player that has spent at least one year with an MLS team’s academy and is signed to that same MLS team without having to go through the draft. If the Homegrown player takes up a roster spot between 1 and 20, their salary counts against the salary cap of $4,035,000. If the homegrown player takes up a supplemental roster spot, a spot between 21 and 24, they do not count against the salary cap and make between $67,500 and $192,500 a year. If the Homegrown player is taking up a reserve roster spot, 25-30, they also do not count against the salary cap, are making between $54,500 and $179,500. Roster spots 29 and 30 have to be homegrown players. You can use up to $200,000 of TAM to sign players to a homegrown player contract. And homegrown players don’t take up international player roster spots.
Whew. We made it. We finally made it. You’re now an expert on homegrown players. In fact, I think you’re now qualified to work in an MLS front office after getting through this. Congrats!