In a fantastic piece on The Athletic by Paul Tenorio about Homegrown players being as important as Designated Players in the future, Paul dropped this nugget.
“[The league] is weighing other changes that are necessary to accelerate the league’s growth,” Tenorio started. “Among those is significantly altering the salary budgets—many GMs would like to see the number triple, at least—and potentially increasing the size of both the senior and reserve rosters.”
Significantly altering the salary budgets. The 2019 MLS Salary Budget is $4,240,000. At least tripling it would get the budget to nearly $13 million. When you look at Sporting Kansas City’s roster, you’ll see even with all their fancy maneuvering and trades of stars like Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber and Ike Opara, they’ve stretched the $4+ million budget to $11,554,237.01 according to the 2018 salary data available from the MLS Players Union.
A tripling of the $4+ million number would blow the top off league spending. That is, assuming mechanisms like the Designated Player (DP) and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) still exist. For the owners to increase salaries that much, you’d have to think they’d want something in return, which could mean the removal of or limitations to some of these other mechanisms.
Not to be lost in the above quote is the possibility of moving up the roster limits. Currently, MLS teams are allowed to have 30 players on their roster. That’s 20 on-budget players that count against the salary budget, four on the supplemental roster and another six on the reserve roster (of which at least two have to be Homegrown players).
Moving the roster size up will allow MLS teams to award academy players and draft picks with first team contracts and would avoid issues like what Sporting KC are experiencing now where at least eight injured players are tying up the limited roster spots. Keep in mind SKC signed zero of their three 2019 MLS SuperDraft picks and cut several fringe players that they likely could really use right now due to roster limitations. Better yet, if more money is available, they could field higher quality players to strengthen their bench.
Another facet that MLS is reportedly looking at altering is international player limits. Currently teams are limited to eight international roster spots yet only “325 of the league’s 655 players were born in the U.S. or Canada.” Tricky moves like obtaining green cards for players have allowed clubs like Sporting to currently carry 12 players on their roster that would typically count as internationals instead of eight.
Tenorio reports that the league is looking at “expanding those [international spots] slightly” to accommodate a growing league. With the MLS announcing they are going to 30 teams, under current rules that would bump the rosters up to 900 players, requiring an increase of about 37 percent of the current rostered players to fill all available slots. Obviously more players would be needed if the roster sizes grow.
All changes at this point are just rumors, but with the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring after the 2019 season, changes are coming.