Overseas Player Rules In The MLS Explained

Overseas Players In The MLS

Even since we saw videos of 1990s penalties which came with a running start from the half way line in the MLS, we knew football across the pond came with a twist.  Rules and regulations in such a different system can be confusing for the European fan, so we thought we would take the time to explain them. Here we are going to guide you through the rules for overseas and designated players in MLS.


First things first, what do we mean by Overseas Players in MLS? Any player who doesn’t qualify for the ‘Homegrown International Rule’ is considered to be an overseas player. Such players do not own passports permanent residency in the United States or Canada. 

Here are few rules for such players: 

  • There are 208 slots for International players in MLS, these slots are equally divided between 26 teams contesting for the league title. Each team has 8 slots for Overseas players in their overall team roster.
  • These roster slots are tradable, in full season increments, such that some teams may have more than eight and some teams may have fewer than eight. There is no limit on the number of international roster slots on each team’s roster.
  • All the players that are declared as Overseas players fill the international roster slots in the MLS team. If there are not any vacant slots left, the club cannot buy any more overseas players.

Josef Martinez is a Venezuelan striker for Atlanta United FC who shattered the MLS single-season goal-scoring record with 35 goals in 2018 and led his team to an MLS Cup title

Rules For Designated Players

Designated Players are those players who are expensive than the salary cap of an MLS team. The Designated Player Rule is also often dubbed as the ‘Beckham Rule’, as David Beckham was the first-ever designated player in MLS. It allows MLS teams to land expensive and iconic players from all over the world. Recent successful Designated Players have included Robbie Keane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa. The rules are:

  • Each club is allowed to have 3 Designated Players in its squad,. It is important to note that Designated Player slots are not tradable like the Overseas slots.
  • Since the acquisition amount or cost of a Designated Player exceeds the allocated salary cap, the outstanding amount of Designated Players’ wages is paid by the club, not the MLS. 
  • When an existing player of a club signs a new contract, which exceeds the salary cap, that player automatically falls into the Designated Player slot, if available. 
  • Officially, two roster slots are allocated to clubs for Designated Players. If a club wants to sign a third Designated Player, they have to pay $150,000 to MLS authorities.
  • If the third Designated Player is less than 24 years old, the said fee of $150,000 is not payable by the club in this case. 

As the MLS grows, and the appeal of LA, Miami and New York lifestyles entices European talent to the US, incentives are likely to grow and rules are likely to shift to accommodate mega talent entering one of the fastest-growing leagues on the planet.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic on his time in the MLS

"I am like a Ferrari among Fiats."

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