MLS tweaks roster rules regarding international slots for Canadian teams

Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley (4) battles for the ball against Vancouver Whitecaps defender Derek Cornelius (13) during first half MLS Canadian Championship soccer action in Toronto on Friday, August 21, 2020. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO — The three Canadian MLS teams are getting a helping hand with their rosters.

Recognizing that U.S. franchises have an easier time with residency rules than their Canadian counterparts, Major League Soccer is allowing Toronto FC, CF Montreal and the Vancouver Whitecaps to each add up to three international players in addition to the eight international roster slots that all MLS teams start with.

“The process to acquire permanent residency in Canada requires more time than the equivalent process in the United States,” Todd Durbin, the league’s executive vice-president of competition and player relations, said in a statement. “The allowance is necessary to maintain and promote competitive balance throughout our league.”

It is the latest addition to the North American league’s already Byzantine rules regarding rosters and salary.

The new rule adding international slots for the Canadian teams comes into effect this season. Players taking up the extra international slots have to have been under contract with MLS and registered with one or more Canadian clubs for at least one calendar year.

The league says that in order to be eligible, the international player “must have met the contract and registration requirement by the roster compliance date.”

The 2022 roster compliance deadline was Friday, one day before the regular season opening.

Unlike normal international roster spots, the three additional positions may not be traded. Whether the new roster regulations are a boon remains to be seen, with Canadian clubs increasingly looking to build their rosters from their academies with help from abroad.

But it can’t hurt.

Earlier this week, the Seattle Sounders announced that Brazil’s Joao Paulo, Ecuador’s Xavier Arreaga and Cameroon’s Nouhou have all been granted their U.S. green cards, giving them permanent resident status in the U.S. That means they will no longer occupy international slots.

The league has struggled with roster rules in the past, with Canadian MLS players facing a disadvantage in that while Americans on Canadian teams were counted as domestic, Canadian players on U.S. teams were designated as international.

For example, Canadians Maxime Crepeau and Doneil Henry, new additions to the Los Angeles FC roster this season, will both count as international players.

In the past, the league has cited U.S. labour laws for the discrepancy. But it has worked to tweak regulations in a bid to even the playing field.

In 2017, it ruled that homegrown Canadian players will be considered domestic players at all MLS clubs providing they meet certain requirements.

According to the MLS website, Toronto currently has six international players on its first-team roster compared to eight for Vancouver and nine for Montreal.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.