As Nashville SC begins to build toward its sophomore season in Major League Soccer, there are plenty of roster considerations to take into account. Last week’s roster announcement provided some clarity (while also raising some questions). With the understanding that there are still trade windows and other roster-building mechanisms to come, a look at where things stand today.
We’re gonna get into the weeds on some of the MLS rules. I’ll try to explain them as simply as possible (but thoroughly as necessary. For a bit more detail, check this post out, though some aspects may be slightly out-of-date).
Roster designation basics
MLS rosters are comprised of 30 players. None of them have any sort of restrictions on playing time, etc., but certain players can only fit into certain slots. Only the “first” 20 (MLS roster rules refer to them by numerical value – even though they don’t need to be filled in order nor are there practical, non-team-building distinctions between the numbers – so I’ll do the same) count against the salary cap, while the other 10 do not – but carry certain restrictions in terms of player salary or age.
Designated Players – who can make more in salary than their hit to the salary cap includes – must be in spots 1-20. Those in 21-24 must make the senior minimum salary. The players in slots 25-30 make reserve minimum salary, and must be born in 1996 or later for the 2021 season (the MLS roster rules phrase the age restriction much more confusingly. You’re welcome). The players in slots 29 and 30 must be Homegrown players.
So with that in mind, what slots does Nashville have filled with its 26 current players (and one more negotiating), and what can the future bring?
Slots 29 and 30
Nashville has these slots filled (or can fill them): Midfielder Derrick Jones and winger Handwalla Bwana are going to turn 24 and 22, respectively, during the course of the season. In acquiring both each of them, Nashville traded for the Homegrown Rights from the clubs whose academies developed them (Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders, respectively).
While Nashville SC also holds Alex Muyl’s HG Rights (from New York Red Bulls), he has aged out of eligibility for slots 29 and 30.
So, with guys who fit a more-specific restriction accounted for, the remainder of slots 25-30 (formerly known as the “reserve roster” – changed presumably both because the name made people think they weren’t on the active roster, and also because of MLS’s upcoming reserve league resurrection) must also be filled with age-eligible guys. It’s also important to remember that these players must make the reserve-minimum salary.
That means not everyone on Nashville SC’s roster who is age-eligible to be in slots 25-28 is eligible by salary: a couple of ’em make too much money. 23-year old winger Randall Leal is a Designated Player, and even though his salary is in the range that he can be bought down from that status, there is no mechanism through which he only counts for enough salary to make slots 25-28. Similarly, centerback Miguel Nazarit is also 23, but he was signed from Colombia’s Once Caldas using Targeted Allocation Money (likely to pay the transfer fee, rather than for his salary, but by MLS rule, transfer fees must be amortized over the life of the contract, so he’s still in the range where he’s required to be in slots 1-20).
That leaves us a handful of players who are age-eligible and possibly salary-eligible for slots 25-28:
- M Tah Brian Anunga (24)
- GK Elliot Panicco (24)
- M Luke Haakenson (23)
- D Alistair Johnston (22)
- GK Brady Scott (21)
Frankly, for the purposes of this exercise, it doesn’t really matter which of them ends up in these four spots, because the other can fit in the next section if necessary (and we saw last year that Haakenson and Scott went on loan – at which point they don’t count against the 30-man roster limit anyway).
This section of the supplemental roster is essentially the same as the above, without the age restriction, and with a slightly higher salary restriction. Since MLS Players’ Association didn’t release salary information this year – broadly because of the coronavirus pandemic, likely in part because they didn’t come away from their return-to-play negotiations feeling happy about the concessions they had to make to league ownership – we don’t know who specifically can fit in these slots.
Again for the purposes of this exercise, it’s more about seeing that Nashville can fit its entire current roster into 1-17 and 21-30 (leaving three senior roster slots open).
There is one guy who, by rule, has to: the only sub-25-year-old player who’s not listed above. Defender Jack Maher is a member of the Generation Adidas program (through which MLS and Adidas put up some money to convince players to forgo their college eligibility). Players in that program have to be in the Supplemental Roster, and don’t have their salary (generally well above the senior minimum) count against the salary cap.
The other three players have to be on senior minimum contracts. We can assume that the highest-compensated of the five players listed above (since 25-28 can only hold four of them) account for one. Let’s just say we can safely assume that – between three guys who moved up from USL but are not age-eligible for 25-28 – there will be enough guys to fill those two slots. Nashville can but does not need to fill them with incoming players.
Designated player slots
Nashville currently has all three of its Designated Player slots filled, but there’s a catch: entering last season, there was discussion that Randall Leal could fit in as a TAM player or occupy a DP slot – depending on what roster-building and accounting mechanisms Nashville SC needed. Making him a Designated Player worked for 2020. It may not be the best fit for 2021.
So, if Nashville SC chooses to buy Leal down into TAM range for 2021, there is potentially one Designated Player slot open.
(For what it’s worth, I expect him to remain a Designated Player, at least for the time being – not least of which because he’s a 1997 birth year and therefore a “Young DP” who counts less against the salary cap.)
So it means…
As things stand today, Nashville SC has three roster slots open (four if they can’t come to terms with defender Eric Miller on a new contract). All of those are or can be senior roster slots, which provides plenty more flexibility in roster-building*.
* Senior roster guys can make between $81,375 and $612,500 in 2020 terms. Supplemental roster slots have to be within a GAM buydown of that lower bound.
There will be more shifting – players in and out – by the time the season rolls around. It would not surprise me if Austin FC ultimately selects one of Nashville SC’s players in the Expansion Draft. It would very much not surprise me if Nashville’s trading patterns in the offseason operate on the parameters that they have a scarcity of open roster slots (i.e. a surplus of personnel), however that ultimately plays out.
For now, though, we know there’s plenty of flexibility in the way this team continues to build for its sophomore campaign.