Let’s Build an MLS Roster: DPs



If Cincinnati is going to field an MLS team next year, they are going to need a roster of players, huh? Well, it turns out, MLS roster rules are a bit weird, kind of scary, and certainly confusing. There are tons of acronyms and designations that are very easy to lose track of.

That’s why I’m here to help.

This is going to be a series of short blogs that will help you understand how a roster is built, and as we go we’ll look at how that impacts FC Cincinnati. So let’s start with the bare basics.


MLS teams can have anywhere from 18 to 30 players. 18 is the minimum, 30 is the maximum.

The salary cap is currently $4,035,000 million per team in 2018, which means that is the most you can spend on your entire roster combined. All player salaries have to add to that number or less.

Pretty easy so far right? Minimum of 18 players, maximum of 30, and you can spend up to about $4,000,000 on the wages of your team. So far so good.

So let’s add just one layer of complexity to this: The Designated Player.


Designated players, or “DPs”, are the expensive players on the roster. And each team can have up to three designated players on their roster. So how do they work?

Sometimes overpaying a European star works, and sometimes it doesn't

Sometimes overpaying a European star works, and sometimes it doesn't

A designated player can be paid as much as the owner wants to pay them! Nice! Want to pay them seven million dollars a year? Go for it. Forget the salary cap! Because that’s the best thing about the “DP”, you can pay them as much as you want, but they only count for $504,375 in the salary cap. Want to pay them $1,000,000 a year? It still only counts as $504,375 when you’re adding up your salary cap. Want to pay them $7,000,000 a year? It still only counts as $504,375. So that’s pretty easy!

Think of it this way:

Imagine an MLS team of 24 players each making $147,109 a year. If you were to add up all of the salaries, they would be paying $3,530,616 in total salary, which would be well under the salary cap of $4,035,000.

Now let’s say they replace one of their players with a designated player, one that is making $5,000,000 a year. What would be their new salary total? Let’s look at the roster’s salary breakdown per each player to figure it out:

  1. $147,109
  2. $147,109
  3. $147,109
  4. $147,109
  5. $147,109
  6. $147,109
  7. $147,109
  8. $147,109
  9. $147,109
  10. $147,109
  11. $147,109
  12. $147,109
  13. $147,109
  14. $147,109
  15. $147,109
  16. $147,109
  17. $147,109
  18. $147,109
  19. $147,109
  20. $147,109
  21. $147,109
  22. $147,109
  23. $147,109


Sub-Total: $3,383,507

 24. $504,375 - Designated Player


Total: $3,887,882 = Well below the salary cap!

So even though the team is paying the Designated Player $5,000,000 a year, you only need to count the first $504,375 against the salary cap! And you can do this with three different players! Not a bad deal!

Ok, so we understand the salary cap and we understand how the designated player works in the salary cap. That’s it, right? Well, no, not really. One last bit. And if you’re with it so far, this is very easy.


There are different types of “DPs”! Yeah, turns out, there is some variety in there. And the different DPs are based on age. The following breakdown should make sense:

Age:      Salary Cap Charge:

≤20        $150,000

21-23      $200,000

24+        $504,375

Generally, “DPs” that are younger than 24 are called “Young DPs”, so you may see that terminology as you explore MLS rosters.

The jawline that reshaped MLS roster rules forever

The jawline that reshaped MLS roster rules forever

So there you go! That’s the “DP” rule. It came from a point in time when the Los Angeles Galaxy had the chance to sign superstar David Beckham, but the salary cap prevented them from doing so. MLS, seeing their chance to add a superstar to the league, decided to create this new roster spot and to let Galaxy sign a superstar. This move truly made the world notice MLS for the first time. This became known as the “David Beckham Rule” and every once in a while you’ll notice that terminology when people write about MLS rosters. MLS eventually added two more DP spots to rosters and here we are today.

And guess what? FC Cincinnati just signed a DP! Fanendo Adi was just signed to FC Cincinnati’s MLS roster and will be the club’s first designated player. A bonafide striker who could play for just about any team in MLS is headed to Cincinnati to be the core of our MLS team next year.

So this is step one to understanding MLS rosters. Each day for the next week or two I’ll be posting a blog to make sure we can all learn these crazy MLS roster rules and sound like know-it-alls when we talk about rosters on the internet. And at the end of the day, that’s really what being a soccer fan is all about.


Kevin Wallace