Let's Build an MLS Roster: Roster Gallimaufry


Dictionary.com taught me that word earlier this week, so here it is in the title of a blog post. Gallimaufry: a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley. Sounds about right for what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

So far we’ve covered Designated Players, International Players, and Home Grown Players. If you haven’t read those, I recommend reading them in that order so that the rest of this can make sense. Because today we’re going to tackle the last two key pieces of the roster. So it’s a 2-for-1 special today!

Generation Adidas

Generation Adidas is one of those things that can only exist in MLS. There isn’t a comparable roster function to it in any of the other major US sports leagues. Actually I take that back. This is almost like the one-and-done system in college/NBA except it is formal and has a corporate sponsorship.

Generation Adidas is a joint venture between Adidas and MLS to fast-track talented high school and college players. MLS teams recommend to the league office which talented youngsters in the US they have scouted that they would recommend to be a part of the Generation Adidas program. Generally speaking, these tend to be players on youth-national teams or on the fringes of them.


After all of the teams have made their recommendations MLS cuts the list down to 5-15 players who will then be a part of the Generation Adidas. What that means is they sign a professional contract with MLS, the league, and are entered into the annual SuperDraft (it’s just a regular draft of college players). This does not mean that even if you recommended a player for the Generation Adidas program, you do not have special access to sign them, they are just thrown into the draft. 

So why sign a Generation Adidas player? Well, they’re probably one of the most talented youth products in the country and they don’t count against the salary cap. Not a bad deal at all. And the Generation Adidas player themselves get a pool of money from MLS later down the line to spend on their college degree, which is on top of their professional contract... Nice.

Another fun quirk with this system, when the Generation Adidas player has finally made it into the first team and become a regular for their team, they “graduate” to a senior player contract and finally count against the salary cap. The quirk here is, the “become a regular” part... it's highly subjective and it is not really clear whether the team or the league makes this determination.

So a quick recap: Generation Adidas players are 5-15 super talented college and high school players who are fast-tracked into the professional game by signing a professional contract with MLS and then are drafted into MLS. They don’t count against the salary cap until they become regulars and get money to eventually go back to college later on in life.

Come to think of it, this might not be a bad idea for the NBA to steal...

Special Discovery Player

If you’re new to soccer, the concept of a transfer fee can seem strange. You’ll read a headline that “Cristiano Ronaldo joins Juventus: £99m transfer fee” and think “I didn't think you could just buy people". Well, you’re not wrong, but transfer fees don’t work the way most headlines would have you believe.

When a player is a professional player, they sign a contract with a team. Let’s take a hypothetical example and have a generic Cincinnati kid, named Thadd Turpin, and let’s sign him to a contract with FCC for $100,000 a year for five years. Thadd plays for FCC for one year, and lights up USL with 25 goals and 10 assists. FCC runs away with the league and Thadd is suddenly not just a player MLS teams are looking at, but a few European teams. And finally it happens, Thadd’s favorite team, Bayern Munich, want Thadd to join the team. But wait, He’s on contract with FCC for another four years! How can Bayern just add him to their team? Well, they can’t. FCC can tell Bayern to stick their noses elsewhere; that they want to keep him, they have his contract, and there is nothing they can do about it.

But FCC isn’t dumb, they know Bayern want Mr. Turpin and they know Bayern has a bunch of money. So they tell Bayern they can buy-out Thadd’s contract. Bayern offers FCC $1,000,000 for Thadd’s contract, which FCC gladly accepts. This gets rid of Thadd’s contract with FCC, pending Thadd signing a new contract with Bayern Munich. Thadd signs a new contract with Bayern for $300,000 a year for 5 years, and the transfer is complete.

The headline will read “Bayern Sign Turpin for $1 Million”, and everyone will talk about how Thadd Turpin is worth a million bucks. Never mind the fact that he’s actually making far less than that. That’s a soccer transfer in a nutshell.

So what does this have to do with the subtitle we’ve long forgotten about? Special Discovery Player?

A Special Discovery Player is a player whose acquisition costs, or transfer fee, is able to be broken up over the course of the contract. Generally when an MLS team signs a player with a transfer fee, that transfer fee counts against the team’s salary cap in the year they pay for it. So if a transfer fee is $200,000 for a player, the team has to take that $200,000 hit on their salary cap and then add on what they are paying the player.

Amazingly, he's not a Designated Player

Amazingly, he's not a Designated Player

If we take our example from above with Thadd Turpin, and say the exact same thing happened but he signed with Real Salt Lake instead, Thadd would be a Designated Player for his first year, and then would not be considered a Designated Player for his remaining four years.

The Special Discovery Player would allow for Real Salt Lake to break up Thadd’s transfer fee over the life of his contract, 5 years, which when combined with Thadd’s salary is only $500,000, which is under the maximum a player can make ($504,375) and Thadd is not a Designated Player, hooray!

A few restrictions on Special Discovery Players. They have to be 27 years or younger, and each team is allowed to have one. It is possible to buy/sell/trade a Special Discovery Player within the league, and a team may end up with more than one, but there can never be more than 1 per team in the league at any given time.

So to recap, a transfer fee is buying out a player’s contract with their old team in order to sign them to your team. A Special Discovery Player is a player who’s transfer fee is broken up over the span of their contract to have the team avoid making them a Designated Player. You can only have one unless you buy/trade one from another team.

And with that, we’re probably done with individual roster spots. Designated Players, International Players,  Home Grown Players, Generation Adidas Players, and Special Discovery Players are the funky MLS roster spot rules. If you aren’t one of those, you’re either a senior contract players or a youth player, see the Home Grown Player entry for more about those.

But that’s not the end of the series! Oh no. There is plenty to get into with how you actually add players to your roster like TAM, GAM, Discovery Rights, and a few other fun MLS things that we should know about before we call into Lance Mcallister’s radio show and moan about how the team is spending money.

Looking forward to it.

Kevin Wallace