MLS has a long history of trying to tweak the rules to promote a desired outcome and they are prepared to make a change to promote Academy talent. First reported in December and re-confirmed today, MLS is adding two additional roster slots specifically for Homegrown players. The slots would bring the total roster size to 30.
The specifics of the HGP roster slots will be disclosed when MLS releases the revised Roster Rules and Regulations before the 2017 season, but the effect will be to provide extra value to teams that have a strong development pipeline.
It will also likely help Columbus Crew SC out of their current roster crunch.
Currently, Crew SC has 27 players under contract, but sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter said the team will be looking to add another one to three players.
One is likely to be the Brazilian loanee Artur, but the team will probably add to the bottom of the roster by signing one or two of their draftees. Even if Gaston Sauro heads to the season long injury list where Columbus gets roster relief, that still would put the Black & Gold over the limit. With the HGP roster slots, the team can bring on all three players without forcing a roster cut.
The details will be important given how MLS often crafts very specific clauses on how teams can leverage a specific rule. Currently, MLS allows for two Homegrown players to be “off budget,” meaning they aren’t added to the team’s salary cap number. They take up spots on the Supplemental of Reserve Rosters. Likewise, the new Homegrown player slots may be only for players that can be off budget. For Crew SC that may restrict it to Alex Crognale and Ben Swanson, two players who are still on original HGP deals.
The team's most notable Homegrown, Wil Trapp, has graduated from HGP status. This was confirmed when he had to be protected in the recent expansion draft while fellow Crew SC Academy players Swanson and Chad Barson were automatically protected by their homegrown status. It’s unlikely that Trapp would be able to be placed on these new HGP slots.
In Berhalter’s previous three seasons, he hasn’t filled out the full roster. In 2016, Crew SC often carried 26 players, two under the roster limit. This was a challenge when the team went through a significant injury crunch and struggled to fill out the team sheet several weeks.
Perhaps Berhalter is learning from that experience with a desire to have a deeper bench and Crew SC is well positioned to take advantage.