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Transfer Differences in MLS and Europe

Earlier this month, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez made a comment that the clubs' American owners did not understand the English transfer window. Liverpool Football club are owned by American Businessmen, Tom Hicks, and George Gillette.

I am not questioning their experience of running sports clubs, or whether Rafael Benitez was right. There is no doubt in my mind that these two are very experienced with running sports teams. I am simply going to compare the two systems without making any judgements, because they are vastly different although on first glance they are similar.

Players can be traded at certain times of the year, and new players can be offered contracts. Where it is very different, is that in the MLS the players are owned by MLS itself, and signed contracts are made by the clubs. In the European Leagues the players are bought and sold, wholly by the clubs.

It seems to me that, as in Europe, the Major League Soccer season has two transfer windows. In North America the season starts in March so the Primary transfer window is the first one of the year. In Europe, the season starts after the summer so the Primary Window is over the summer.

USA.
Primary Window is January 15 – April 15
Secondary Window is June 15 – August 15

Europe
Primary Window is July 1st – August 31st
Secondary Window is January 1st – January 31st

Lets look at the Major League Soccer Roster Composition in more detail.

A roster seems to be what in England we would call a squad. The basic rules are that no club can have more than 28 total players in a roster, comprising of 18 players on the Senior Roster and a maximum of 10 players on the Developmental Roster. The developmental roster comprises of the younger players, less than 25.

All 28 players are eligible for the match day squads during the course of the season, including play-off’s. These numbers are kept the same throughout the course of the season, apart from pre specified times in pre season, or in the case of an injury or other extreme situation. The teams have a pre specified salary budget.

The senior roster is comprised of the following players, who all count against a team’s salary budget: Domestic Players, Senior International Players, Youth Internationals.

Major League Soccer teams may not have more than 10 development players on their developmental roster at any time (except in the case of extreme injury replacements). Developmental players can be either domestic or international and must be 24 years of age or younger during the season in question. These players do not count against a team’s salary budget.

MLS teams may acquire new players and add them to their Senior and Developmental rosters using any of the following ways : Allocations, Draft, Trades, Discovery signings, Development Roster Signings, Waivers, Lottery, Extreme hardship call ups, Season ending injury call ups, & returning United States National team pool players.

To the uninitiated this seems quite complex, especially in comparison to the UEFA system. I will cover some of the other methods of transfer mentioned here on the forum and in future articles, but for the time being, lets look in brief at the draft system.

Generally speaking what happens is that the weakest teams (those who finished in the lower positions the previous season) get the first pick of the best young players from the college system. They pick players in several rounds, those players that are not picked are free to talk to anyone they wish. They can either take that player or trade, by selling their pick to someone else.

There is an argument that this system is anti competitive, or protectionist. I am not going to go into politics here, but I would say that whilst it brings an equalizing force to the distribution of young talent it also limits the players options. As Major League Soccer is a fledgling league in comparison to the European leagues, I think it is understandable that the system is developed to make the fairest distribution of young talent, perhaps a purely competitive transfer window, might not work so well in the United States at present.

In Europe the squads can be as large as the club can afford, and the players are bought and sold within the transfer window. Their contract is fully owned by the individual clubs. They cannot be sold twice in the same transfer period. Free trade agreements mean that there is no stipulation on the number of foreign players that can play for each club. Some countries have made their own private agreements within the league themselves as to how many domestic players should be in the squad, but this is not a restriction of trade as it is a private and voluntary agreement.

I will write in more detail about the other methods of player distribution over the coming weeks and months, providing more examples. If you would like to discuss any of these methods of Transfer systems in the United States or worldwide please join in and post on the forum.

As I live in England I don't have first hand experience of Major League Soccer and the transfer system, my area of expertise is the English Premier League.

I have tried to be as accurate as possible to my understanding of it. If you think I am inaccurate in any way or have more information I would welcome your feedback. Please join in the Soccer forum, I would love to hear from you.

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