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— First off with a new rule, the league has implemented the away-goals tiebreaker in the conference semifinals and finals. This rule, which was added to follow FIFA and CONCACAF practice, does not apply if the series goes to overtime.
— Also, the tiebreakers for the league standings have changed again. The top tiebreaker is still most wins, but it is followed by goal differential now instead of goals scored, which is third. The rest of the order is fewest disciplinary points, road goal differential, road goals scored, home goal differential, home goals scored, coin toss (two teams) or drawing of lots (three or more).
— The salary cap is now $3.1 million, up from $2.95 million. Only players on the senior roster (spots 1-20) count against the cap.
— Spots 21-30 are referred to as off-budget players and don’t count against the cap. Generation adidas signings, like Seattle’s first-round pick Damion Lowe, are automatically off-budget players. Roster spots No. 19 and 20 are not required to be filled, and consistent with last year, teams no longer get $35,000 in allocation money for leaving those two spots unfilled. If roster spot No. 18 is unfilled (or others lower), the team will be charged a minimum salary against the cap per vacant slot.
— The minimum salary for veterans has been upped to $48,500 from $46,500.
— The minimum for young players, sometimes referred to as “apprentice salaries,” is $36,500, up from $35,125. These players must be under 25.
— Three designated players are allowed on the roster, that’s no different, but the DP charge is now $387,500 instead of $368,750. Midseason DP signings count $193,750. A team must pay a one-time fee of $150,000 if they plan to sign a third DP, and that money is distributed to the teams without three DPs (something the Sounders have already done, obviously).
— Teams must pay the portions of salaries in excess of the $387,500 that the league covers. The salary charge can be bought down to $150,000 with allocation money. DP signings are subject to league approval and DP slots cannot be traded.
— Young DPs (ages 21-23) count $200,000 and even younger DPs (ages 20 and below) count $150,000, which is the same as years past. Any young DP signed midseason counts $150,000, regardless of age.
— In a new DP rule under the “Allocation Order” category, DPs of a certain threshold (as determined by MLS) are not subject to the mechanism. You can probably call this the Clint Dempsey and/or Michael Bradley rule.
— Otherwise, the allocation order is for returning USMNT nationals and players who left the league for a transfer fee (e.g. new Seattle acquisition Marco Pappa). The order is a reverse of the last year’s finish, but spots can be traded. Once used, the team goes to the bottom of the order.
— Teams can make up to six discovery signings per year, meaning players outside of MLS who don’t come through the allocation order, weighted lottery or the draft. The 10 players on teams’ discovery lists, which can change at any time, aren’t made public but someone like Djimi Traore would be an example. Claims expire at the end of the season.
— Players that qualify as homegrown signings must have trained at least one year in the team’s youth development program and actively participated at least 80 days. If they qualify, they can be signed without being subject to the draft (e.g. Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar this year).
— Intraleague loans are new this year, as we saw with Eriq Zavaleta going to Chivas USA, and here are some parameters: the player must be 24 years old or younger at the time of the loan, MLS teams can loan out one player per season, the loan has to be before May 12, the player has to stay for the whole season and can’t play against his former team, and loans can include an option to buy.
— The primary transfer window is open until May 12 this year (it was May 6 last year). The summer transfer window is from July 8 to August 6 (a slight change from last year’s July 9 to August 8). Windows mark when teams and league can acquire players registered and signed in other leagues around the world.
— The roster freeze is Sept. 15 at 2 p.,m., meaning no more acquisitions, cuts, trades, moves to the disabled list or anything until after MLS Cup. The only exception is a case of extreme hardship (e.g. all your goalkeepers are injured) and that’s up to the discretion of the league.
— Team begin with eight international roster slots, but those can be traded. Seattle, for example, has seven after trading one to Montreal for Lamar Neagle. Foreign players with a green card do not count toward the total (e.g. Leo Gonzalez).
— For Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Americans and Canadians count as domestic players on the roster, but those teams must have at least three Canadians on the team (including permanent residents).
— Allocation money is always a bit confusing, but teams accrue it by missing the playoffs, transferring a player outside of MLS for a profit, being an expansion team, qualifying for CONCACAF Champions League and as part of other teams paying a $150,000 surcharge for a third DP slot. Allocation money, which can be acquired in trades, is often used to buy down the cap hit on contracts, but can also be used to sign new players to the league or re-sign current players. The amounts teams have accrued or acquire in trades are never made public, unless sleuthed out by a fine MLS journalist.
— Lastly, players with contracts that aren’t fully guaranteed can be waived before July 1 to open up cap space. Same as last year.
— I hope this helps, and let me know if something looks wrong (it was a lot of back and forth with the 2013 and 2014 rules). Check out this link for more information on things like right of first refusal (e.g. a team retains the rights to unsigned college players for two years), weighted lotteries, injured list rules, waivers, the Re-Entry Process, contract buyouts (which could happen with Shalrie Joseph) and more. For information on things like the schedule and playoff format, which stayed mostly the same (outside of the away-goals tiebreaker) go here.