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LAFC and international slots in 2018

Breaking down what the rules are and what’s possible for the expansion side.

Jake Schwartz

It’s not an understatement to say that MLS roster rules are confusing. The structure of roster construction is a series of lattices, but instead of being one uniform lattice it’s more like a bunch of lattice segments nailed together at odd angles. If you map it out right, you can make it fit, but it takes a lot of work.

To introduce the various ways Los Angeles Football Club can sign players, we start at what is one of the easier methods to understand in picking up players, by filling MLS international roster slots.

Here’s what you need to know about international roster slots:

How many international roster slots will LAFC have?

This year, there were enough slots around the league that each team had an average of eight international slots, meaning LAFC will most likely receive eight slots to begin their roster with. Rosters can be up to 30 players (in some circumstances, up to 32, but 30 is the informal maximum), to give you an idea of the proportion of international slots to total players.

Is it possible to pick up extra international slots?

Yes, it is. Teams are able to trade roster slots between each other in exchange for players, draft picks, order in the allocation ranking, or money.

One key caveat here: International slots are traded these days on a temporary basis. So a team can trade for an international slot for a season, or through a set date, usually through the end of a year. When the international slots were first instituted, a few teams, like Real Salt Lake, made the mistake of permanently trading away an international roster slot to Chivas USA. Given how valuable international players can be, there is no other asset in the MLS world that is worth a permanent international slot, and while MLS has not formally banned teams from trading away their international slots forever, at least publicly, teams are now wise to no longer do it.

Who counts as an international player?

Another key point: international players are those who cannot be classified as domestic players. In the United States, domestic players are:

  • United States citizens
  • Green card holders
  • Players who have been formally granted refugee or asylum status by the U.S. government
  • Players who qualify as Homegrown players, regardless of citizenship or U.S. immigration status

In practical terms, the most important thing MLS teams can do to expand their ability to sign international players, aside from trading for extra slots, is to work to get international players their green cards in short order. Some MLS teams move extremely aggressively on this front, to the point where players can get a green card in less than two years. It’s an obvious step, but many teams are not interested in facilitating the immigration process legally and they lose out on a competitive front as a result.

So what do the MLS international roster rules tell us about LAFC’s roster?

This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. So far, LAFC have four players under contract:

  • Carlos Alvarez (U.S. citizen, domestic player)
  • Carlos Vela (Mexico citizen, international player)
  • Rodrigo Pacheco (Argentina citizen, international player)
  • Monday Etim (Nigeria citizen, immigration status unknown)

As you can see, at least two of the players, Vela and Pacheco, are definitely international players and would take up international roster slots, while Etim might take up another if he does not have a green card.

Vela is a guarantee to be on LAFC’s roster in 2018, while the statuses of Pacheco and Etim are unclear. At the very least, both players will likely be in preseason, but they may be playing for a contract for 2018 given that LAFC will only have seven more international slots if they don’t obtain any additional spots. In that way, international players normally have to be very impressive (starter-quality or regular contributors on most teams).

And when it comes to scouting, it’s important to remember the limit on international roster slots in MLS. Yes, players who aren’t U.S. citizens and/or players who represent other countries can be counted as domestic players, so the rest of the roster does not strictly have to be “American.” But the idea that LAFC will essentially stock their roster with 25 imports and only sign a few Americans is a non-starter. It simply cannot happen in the way MLS requires teams to build a squad.

So keep that in mind in considering international scouting and your own wishlist for player acquisition. For example, will LAFC sign a big-name goalkeeper from abroad? It’s possible, although very, very few MLS teams do that. It’s not necessarily because of a perceived superiority of American goalkeepers, a perception that has kind of fallen away in recent years, but more because with a limited number of slots, signing domestic goalkeepers tends to be more efficient overall, with the international slots going to other positions.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!