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A Guide to This Week’s Major League Soccer Player Acquisition Mechanisms

Expansion, Waiver, and Re-Entry Drafts, oh my!

MLS: MLS SuperDraft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With MLS Cup over with, the league is officially looking ahead to the 2018 Major League Soccer season. Player movement within the league begins this week with a slew of the complicated mechanisms that will allow teams to start building their rosters for next season, starting with today’s half-day trade window, which opened at 9 a.m. ET this morning and runs through 1 p.m.

Following a roster freeze about three months in length, teams may sign and trade players for a four-hour period. Why a four-hour period? That’s a great question to which I have no answer. Why not a full day? Hey, we’ve warned you repeatedly that MLS gonna MLS, and apparently all of the teams in the league can get this done in four hours or forever hold their peace.

The Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC must turn in their list of players with options either exercised or declined by noon today as well. All other teams have already done this, so now it’s the MLS Cup participants’ turn.

Finally, by 1 p.m. today, we’ll be in a blackout period. MLS clubs clubs will no longer be able to sign and/or trade their own draft-eligible players until the conclusion of the Expansion Draft on Tuesday.

That brings us to this week’s schedule of events. Since we follow a league with complex player acquisition mechanisms I thought I’d try to explain them a bit.

2017 MLS Expansion Draft (2 p.m. Tuesday)

Los Angeles FC will be entering league play in 2018 and the club needs a roster of players. Much like the Uniteds in Atlanta and Minnesota did last year, and Orlando City and New York City FC did the year before, LAFC will get to raid other teams’ rosters for players. LAFC may only take up to five players in this year’s Expansion Draft, and no MLS team may lose more than one unprotected player to LA.

Orlando City — and all other existing MLS teams — may “protect” up to 11 players from being selected. Generation Adidas players who have not yet graduated from the program, and Homegrown Players currently on the club’s reserve or supplemental roster are exempt. This means they don’t need to be protected but still may not be selected by LA. Examples of these players are Richie Laryea (GA), Tommy Redding and Mason Stajduhar (both HGPs on the reserve/supplemental roster). Here is a complete list of who is on Orlando City’s senior and reserve rosters.

What else do you need to know about the Expansion Draft?

  • Designated Players can be selected if they aren’t protected.
  • If the player’s contract expires at the end of 2017 (say, Kaká), he is still considered part of the club’s Senior Roster and his rights may be selected by LAFC if he’s not protected.
  • If a club protects a player, it is not obligated to exercise the player’s option. It may renegotiate a new budget number for the player as in previous years, subject to the CBA.
  • Option Decline Free Agents and Out of Contracts Free Agents are part of the Expansion Draft and are not automatically protected. In other words, LAFC could select Giles Barnes if unprotected, even if Orlando City was trying to renegotiate a new deal with him.
  • If LAFC selects a Supplemental/Reserve Roster Player, it must offer him a Senior Roster position and he must remain on the Senior Roster as of Roster Compliance Date. For example, if Orlando City didn’t protect Pierre Da Silva, he would qualify for this rule.
  • Clubs are restricted in the number of international player(s) that they may make available. That number is equal to the club’s total number of international players minus three. If it has three or fewer international players, it may not make more than one international player available.
  • Finally, if a player retires, he is not part of the Expansion Draft, however, his club will lose the right of first refusal if the player changes his mind and decides to play.

Free Agency Begins (Tuesday 3 p.m. ET)

Players who are out of contract or have had their contract options declined, and who were both at least 28 years old during the 2017 season and have a minimum of eight years of MLS service, are eligible for MLS free agency. If that previous sentence isn’t confusing to you on first reading, you are quite attentive and I applaud you. Kevin Alston and Josh Saunders would be eligible for free agency under league rules, while Servando Carrasco and Giles Barnes don’t have enough years in MLS to be eligible. Servando is one year shy and Barnes is two.

When this window opens, clubs may engage players other than their own who are eligible for free agency. The league will make the complete list of free agents available today. Teams may add up to two out-of-contract players via free agency in a given year. may re-sign with their current team at any compensation subject to league approval in its discretion at any time prior to the beginning of Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft.

2017 MLS Waiver Draft (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Players eligible for the MLS Waiver Draft have been waived by their clubs but lack the minimum years of service requirement for the Re-Entry Draft (3 or 4, depending — more on that later) or Free Agency (8). These are generally young players who haven’t spent much time in MLS.

Players under contract players selected in the Waiver Draft are automatically added to the roster of the club that selects them. Clubs that claim out-of-contract players must issue a genuine offer to the selected player.

The order of the draft is reverse of finishing order in 2017, taking into account the depth that clubs reached in the playoffs, so Orlando City would be fifth. The exception is LAFC, which will select 23rd. Don’t expect a lot of players to be taken with this mechanism. Most teams pass.

2017 MLS Re-Entry Draft: Stage 1 (Friday, 3 p.m. ET)

Like the Waiver Draft, both stages of the Re-Entry Draft are conducted in reverse order of 2017 season finish, taking into account postseason performance, with LAFC selecting last.

The purpose of the Re-Entry Draft is to give clubs an opportunity to pick up players who haven’t agreed to a new contract with their current club but want to stay in the league. The list of the eligible players is typically released the day before the draft takes place.

Those eligible to be selected for Re-Entry fall into two categories:

  • Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years of MLS experience whose contract options were not exercised by their clubs are available at their option salary for 2017. This would include players like Seb Hines, who has only three years of MLS experience.
  • Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary are available for at least their 2017 salary. This would include the likes of Dillon Powers, Giles Barnes, and Servando Carrasco.

For players taken in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft, the selecting clubs must exercise the player’s option for or extend that player a "Bona Fide Offer." Clubs may not select their own draft-eligible players. A player can reject the offer and in that case the drafting club will hold the right of first refusal for that player in MLS. Players with option years left on their contract are automatically added to the drafting club’s roster.

2017 MLS Re-Entry Draft: Stage 2 (Dec 21, 2 p.m. ET)

Stage 2 works mechanically like Stage 1. All players who were not selected in the first stage will be available again. The difference between this and the first stage is that teams who select a player in Stage 2 will have the right to negotiate with the player for a new contract and are not compelled to exercise the existing player option or extend a “Bona Fide Offer.”

As with the Waiver Draft, there are typically few players taken in the two stages of the MLS Re-Entry Draft.


If you think these player mechanisms are a bit more complex than they need to be, you’re correct. Major League Soccer has some rules that mirror those in other U.S. sports and due mainly to the single-entity status of the league, it rarely operates like other leagues around the world. Still, at least it gives us plenty to talk about.

Hopefully this explainer helps you understand the various mechanisms, who is eligible for them, how they work, and what they mean. And hopefully I didn’t mess anything up. There are a lot of rules to remember.