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Making Sense of the Nonsensical: MLS Allocation and Roster Rules

On Friday, Major League Soccer released "streamlined" allocation and roster rules. Does it make any sense?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

One of the major sticking points for many Major League Soccer fans is the way that league seems to deal with player allocation and the rules of building a roster.  And I would argue that many fans do not even understand what these rules are (MLS has not helped themselves by seemingly changing rules on the fly)

This past Friday, MLS released new and updated roster rules along with a (more) sensical approach to allocation.  It is sensical enough that I think I understand it.  Two of the major highlights:

Allocation Process: MLS will maintain a single fixed and public list of players, known as the Allocation Ranking List, that are subject to the Allocation Process. MLS clubs will have the right to acquire players on the Allocation Ranking List based on the Allocation Ranking Order. The Allocation Ranking Order is determined by the reverse order of finish in the previous season, taking playoff performance into account. Once a club acquires a player via the Allocation Ranking Order, that club drops to the bottom of the order. A club's Allocation Ranking Order position is tradable.

Discovery Process: Subject to certain exemptions specified further below, a player not listed on the Allocation Ranking List may be signed through the Discovery Process. A Discovery signing occurs when a team scouts and recruits a particular player not playing in MLS. Clubs identify players not yet under MLS contract and submit a claim to the league office to add the players to a club's Discovery List.

Got that?

What MLS is trying to do (I think) is to become more transparent on how players are acquired by clubs rather than the system that has been used in the past.  (Remember the Jermaine Jones acquisition?  He was "assigned" to New England Revolution rather than Chicago Fire because the Revs won a coin flip.)

Some other interesting tidbits:

As part of these revisions, the Lottery Player Assignment Process will no longer be used. In previous years, some players entering the league went through a "weighted lottery" to sign with an MLS team. (Keep in mind Colorado Rapids fans this 'Lottery Player Assignment Process' system was used for the club to acquire Kamani Hill.  In the new system the Rapids would not have gone through this process to sign Hill.)

Designated Players may be signed through the Allocation Process, the Discovery Process or from a club's existing roster.

At first glance, this seems much more realistic and transparent system and should eliminate some of the jokes and poor management of league wide roster decisions.

OK, John, but what about the allocation process?  What does that mean and who is on that list?  According to MLS the "Allocation Ranking List is comprised of players in the following categories:

1)  Select U.S. Men's National Team players.

2)  Select elite U.S. Youth National Team players.

3)  Players transferred outside of MLS garnering a transfer fee of at least $500,000 (USD).

The players who will be included on the Allocation Ranking List will be determined by Major League Soccer's player personnel department and club technical staffs.  The Allocation Ranking List will be made public at and updated once each year, during  the time window between the end of the MLS regular season and MLS Cup. The Allocation Ranking List will only be updated during the season if an elite U.S. youth national team player turns 18 or graduates from the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, FL and is deemed eligible for the list. In addition, the Allocation Ranking List will be updated when a player is transferred out of MLS for more than $500,000."

As I read this all that is important to me is who is on the allocation list.  And without further adieu (drum roll please)

Player Current Club Classification
Alejandro Bedoya Nantes Senior USMNT
Brad Guzan Aston Villa Senior USMNT
Tim Howard Everton Senior USMNT
Aron Johannsson AZ Alkmaar Senior USMNT
Fabian Johnson Hoffenheim Senior USMNT
Juan Anangono Leones Negros Transfer
Deshorn Brown Valerenga Transfer
Geoff Cameron Stoke City Transfer
Giancarlo Gonzalez Palermo Transfer
Doneil Henry Apollon Limassol Transfer
Andy Najar Anderlecht Transfer
Fredy Montero Sporting Lisbon Transfer
Tim Ream Bolton Transfer
Oriol Rosell Sporting Lisbon Transfer
Alain Rochat Young Boys Transfer
Richard Sanchez Tigres UNAL Transfer
Camilo Sanvezzo Queretaro Transfer
Jose Adolfo Valencia Rosario Central Transfer
DeAndre Yedlin Tottenham Transfer
Junio Flores Dortmund Youth USMNT
Julian Green Hamburg Youth USMNT
Shaquell Moore Unattched Youth USMNT
Marc Pelosi Liverpool Youth USMNT
Rubio Rubin Utrecht Youth USMNT

NOTE:  There has been discussion about how much the Rapids got for the transfer of Deshorn Brown.  Based on this information, the Rapids got at least $500,000 which seems like a pretty good bit of business.  And the sale of Brown would appear to have allowed the Rapids to acquire Kevin Doyle and Luis Solignac.  Obviously, it is too early to say if the Rapids "won" this transaction, but it would seem that they did pretty well on this.

I have laid out the allocation process for MLS, but what about the discovery process.  Can a team go out there and just throw the discovery tag on any player?  And if they can does it make sense to do so?  Here is the updated discovery process for MLS:

As part of the revised Discovery Process, in 2015 clubs may place seven players on their Discovery Lists, a reduction from 12 players in 2014. This reduction is intended to encourage clubs to add to their lists only players they intend to sign. In order for MLS clubs to maintain the confidentiality from other MLS clubs of the players they are seeking to recruit, the league office will not publicize the names of players on a club's Discovery list, nor specify if a claim has been filed to add a particular player to a club's Discovery List. Clubs may add or remove players to their Discovery List throughout the year, and each club's Discovery List does not reset at the end of the MLS season.

As it is MLS, there are exceptions to everything, and the Discovery Process is no different.  Here are the exemptions:

1)  Players on the current Allocation List

2)  SuperDraft Eligible Players: U.S. youth national team players, college players and players with college eligibility (which includes players under the age of 18).

3)  Homegrown Players: Players developed in a club's youth academy.

4)  College Protected Players: Players who were selected in the MLS SuperDraft and did not sign an MLS contract.

5)  Other Unsigned Players: Players who were (i) on a club's roster who that club attempted, but were unable, to resign at the expiration of their contract or (ii) on a club's Discovery List and who that club attempted, but were unable, to sign.  In both cases, the club who attempted to sign the player maintains a "right of first refusal" to acquire the player in the event he is subsequently signed to an MLS contract.

6)  Waived Players: Players who have been previously waived by an MLS club.

And there you have it!  Clear as Day right?

It certainly does seem confusing, but this does look like an attempt from MLS to have their roster rules make much sense than in the past.  And as the league is single entity, clarity was vital as it seemed that the bigger clubs got to pick and choose who they got whereas the smaller clubs did not.   Certainly, Tim Howard could come back to MLS, but only a few clubs could afford it.  But this system is much clearer and it does allow teams to compete on a level playing field.  And the league has placed in those clubs hands to spend their roster money as they see fit.

And that is where quality decision making and a solid front office come into play.  As a fan of MLS, this feels like the best system that they could have and I am hopeful that it ends some of the controversy that has plagued the league with regard to player acquisition.