Let's Build an MLS Roster: International Roster Spots


Alright, so yesterday in our first blog post we covered DPs and how they work.  Today we’re going to examine a simple concept that MLS has made pretty complicated: International Roster Spots. Or is it roster slots?  Either way you want to say it works just fine.


I think the ball takes up an international roster spot

International Roster Spots

Just like in the USL, MLS limits the number of foreign players a team can have.  Now, on the face of it, this seems pretty discriminatory... and in reality, it is. The thought is, if you reduce the number of foreign players in the league, the more experience MLS can give to American players, thus making our national team better.  Don’t get me wrong, caps on foreign players are common around the world.  But for now, we’re talking about MLS. 

The basic idea is each MLS team gets 8 international spots for their roster.  On top of that, MLS teams can buy/sell/trade these roster spots.  When I say spot, I mean the literal spot, no player needs to be attached to it. Let’s say an MLS team has 24 players on their roster; this team has 8 international slots, but only 7 international players.  They could sell their one unused international roster spot to another team, and pocket that cash to be used on whatever else they may want. Also, there is no limit to the number of international roster spots a team can have, so if you want to go field an entire roster of international players, you can totally do that.

Pretty simple so far, right?  18-30 players on a roster, 8 spots on the roster can be used for international players, and you are more than welcome to buy and sell those roster spots.  Easy peasy. So what makes this so difficult?

Well, what do you consider an international player? MLS has teams in the United States and in Canada, so already you know this can get tricky.

First thing you should know is that the rules are different for Canadian teams and American teams.  I’m going to focus on the rules for American teams since FC Cincinnati is, yanno, American, but I’ll mention some of the big differences between the Canadians and the Americans when it comes up.

Domestic Players

Let’s look at it backward for a second, who would be considered a “domestic” player for an American club in MLS? For U.S. Clubs, a domestic player is either a U.S. Citizen, a Green Card holder, or the holder of a special status like ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum’. If you don’t fall into one of those three categories, you’re an international player! Congrats! I think? The same rules apply in Canada, minus the Green Card status because that doesn’t exist in Canada. Or at least I assume so, I didn’t look it up. Feel free to correct my extensive Canadian immigration law knowledge in the comments.

Oh also, this is fun, if a player manages to acquire one of those statuses in the middle of the season, like they are granted a green card in the middle of the season, the team gets that international roster spot back.  So teams actually have an incentive to try and get their international players green cards. 


The main man in Atlanta recently recieved his Green Card

Alright, that wasn’t too bad.  Citizens, Green Cards, and refugees. You can wrap your mind around that. Thank god MLS doesn’t add another rule that might make this more . . .

Homegrown Players

Crap. One more thing.

Homegrown Players don’t count as international players even if they don’t qualify for the three categories above.

Leave it to MLS to add another layer of weird to this. 

I’ll talk about homegrown players in a future blog post, likely the next one, but for now just know homegrown players don’t “take up” an international roster spot even if they otherwise would.

“Otherwise would”.  We should probably stop before more legalese shows up.

So that’s the international roster spot system.  You get 8 international roster spots per team. You can buy or sell them. If you are a citizen, hold a Green Card, or are have refugee status you don’t take up an international roster spot. And if you are a homegrown player you don’t take up an international roster spot.


Kevin Wallace

Kevin Wallace