The strange roster rules of MLS

Dwayne De Rosario

It’s a strange situation for North American players in Major League Soccer, with the league’s domestic player rules fundamentally unbalanced. Dejan Jakovic and Kyle Porter take up a precious international slot at D.C. United (teammate Dwayne De Rosario has a green card), but if they returned to a Canadian club they’d be competing against Americans as a domestic.

In the United States, clubs are allowed 8 foreign (including Canadian) spots, while in Canada, players from both countries are considered domestic. You might argue that this should benefit the Canadian teams – they have the advantage of picking from two countries to fill their domestic spots.

If any of the three start competing for an MLS Cup, it might become an issue, but in the meantime the only ones suffering from this imbalance are Canadian players. American midfielder Michael Thomas doesn’t take up an international spot in Toronto, having effectively replaced Terry Dunfield. Going back further and on less salary, Toronto cut Matt Stinson early in the season. Those Canadians don’t have the same luxury of counting as a domestic player at 19 MLS clubs.

We’re told to believe that this would be impossible, that US labour law prevents it – something that has been debunked extensively by Steven Sandor at

Not only that, it seems that some of the league’s other arbitrary rules – like the Homegrown slots – effectively discriminate based on nationality. That’s without mentioning the league’s inaction over Chivas USA’s “Mexican-only” controversy.

In my view, the league’s legal department address any labour law concerns when drafting a contract, but once a player is employed by the league, their category is unlikely to have any such implications for reasons that Sandor has explained better than I.

There’s something asymmetrical about the whole set-up that’s annoying – it seems that MLS should either count both country’s players as domestics across the board, or force Canadians to use only their own players in those slots.

In the latter scenario, the adjustment period would be a struggle – Toronto themselves would be 13 players over the international limit – but at least players like Dunfield and Stinson wouldn’t be in such a disadvantageous position. Their Canadian clubs might be, with about 20 million people in the US per MLS club against 11 million for each Canadian side, but the extra roster spots are desperately needed. Whichever option the league takes, those extra minutes can only lead to long-term gains for Canadian soccer and our national team.


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About canadianfootball

Student of the game. @scott_ferguson

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  1. Can Montreal do the double? | Major Ligue Soccer - August 25, 2013

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