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How will LAFC manage international roster slots in 2019?

Plenty of time ahead, but an interesting item to track.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Colorado Rapids
Some of these players will require international slots this season.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club begin preseason camp next week, and with the MLS Draft and the various other intraleague offseason drafts done, we’re getting a sense of what the roster will look like for the 2019 season.

Of course, expect many, many changes ahead, as even with a working roster this year LAFC will still have plenty of work in crafting the group they want for the season. But one item that always should be on the horizon is international roster slots.

From what I can tell, LAFC currently have the standard eight international slots, meaning players who don’t have green cards or U.S. citizenship or any other legal resident status have to take up a slot in order to be an active player on the roster.

Right now, seven of those slots appear to be filled, by Eduard Atuesta, Adama Diomande, Mohamed El-Munir, Andre Horta, Diego Rossi, Eddie Segura and Carlos Vela. They have drafted Peter-Lee Vassell and as reported at the draft he is said to be joining LAFC on loan this year, so that would take up another slot. And then Danilo Silva is expected to be back, and he would take up another slot.

That alone would make nine players and eight slots. It would also seem to indicate LAFC may struggle to sign any more international players, since they are already possibly over their complement of slots. In 2018, LAFC was perpetually over their limit and so a few deep roster players were never eligible to play because there wasn’t an international slot for them.

What can they do? There’s a few ways to work around this situation.

Trade for more slots

The “easiest” solution is to trade for more slots from other MLS teams on a temporary basis (MLS prudently outlawed a team permanently trading away a slot, which Real Salt Lake once did). A few years ago, international slots were like gold and the going rate for these — always allocation money, but still a rising amount — seems to have dropped. That doesn’t mean they are cheap, necessarily.

The issue here is finding willing partners. Even if the price to trade slots isn’t spiking, that doesn’t mean that there are a bunch of teams who really don’t need all eight slots and so they’ll willingly part with one. Slots are traded all the time, but the sheer volume of these trades isn’t massive, so teams have to find a team willing to part with one, first of all, and then strike a good deal. Sometimes, it’s probably pretty easy and other times, not so much.

Green cards

The ace in the hole here, and a test of LAFC’s planning for the future, will come if some of the international players here in 2018 start getting green cards. When a player obtains a green card (or other protected status), he no longer needs the international slot, and it opens up for another player. This is something that MLS teams have become far better at tracking over time, with a growing number of teams fast-tracking their players to a green card. Six or seven years ago, only a couple teams even really seemed to pay attention to this, but now it’s in a way the actual easiest way to clear an international slot, even if the work of immigration bureaucracy is not actually “easy.”

Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi have been in the U.S. the longest and likely have the inside track to getting permanent resident status first. It’s possible Orlando City started the process for El-Munir already, but hard to say. Also, bear in mind that timing for this isn’t a set thing — it is to an extent up to the whims of the immigration process, too. But it is possible LAFC could open some slots this way, and if they do, they can work on bringing more international players in without having to give up slots.

Get creative

LAFC didn’t really take advantage of this strategy last year, because the international players at the end of the roster probably didn’t warrant the work. But even if a team has more international players than roster slots, they can still make it work in a way.

One player can be sent on a season-long loan and won’t be counted as an international player on the roster. That happened with Nico Czornomaz last year. The drawback is the expectation that the player won’t be recalled, so it’s a player technically on the roster but unable to play. This is something to be used on a prospect who could stand to go on loan anyway.

Other players over the limit can also be sent on loan. This happened with Steeve Saint-Duc, who was sent to Scandinavia on loan. While on loan, LAFC don’t have to count him as an international player.

Say you have too many international players that you actually want to use. What to do? A few teams have done a shuffle of sorts, where they’ll send a player on loan temporarily, then bring him back for the games they need him for, and send another player on loan, etc. It can get a bit complicated, and every time you do this, you need league approval for moves back and forth for compliance, but it can be done.

All in all, for those expecting LAFC to sign a slew of internationals in the primary window, I’d say don’t count on it, unless some of the experienced hands move on. But that doesn’t mean they won’t sign one or two more beyond the initial group stated above, including Vassell and Silva. The club isn’t likely to happen upon five or six open roster slots, one way or another, but they do have the ability to make some adjustments along the way to find compliance.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!