MLS Roster Building- Critical Dates Ahead

FC Cincinnati and Major League Soccer announced yesterday that Commissioner Don Garber is coming to Cincinnati on Tuesday for a major announcement that is widely expected be an invitation to become the league’s 26th franchise. In addition, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus reported that FC Cincinnati would join the league for the upcoming 2019 season. While we still have 5-6 months left of the 2018 USL campaign, Technical Director Luke Sassano and Head Coach Alan Koch will have their hands full trying to build a roster for the jump to MLS. Building a roster in Major League Soccer is a tedious and careful exercise that requires a lot of planning. Unlike the USL where you can go out and pick the exact players you want without much restriction, MLS has restrictive vehicles to use in building a squad to try to ensure parity between clubs. Below is a list of estimated critical dates based on past seasons and vehicles where we could see the growth of FC Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS roster.

MLS Announcement: May 29, 2018

  • With the announcement of the MLS franchise, FC Cincinnati can officially scout and recruit players to build their roster. Don’t expect to see a lot of signings between now and the end of the season unless it is a player coming from overseas. You could see players on the European schedule sign in the summer transfer window (July 10- August 8) like Mexican star Carlos Vela did with LAFC. Atlanta United signed Hector Villalba to an early deal in July 2016 from Argentina, a season prior to their inaugural campaign. With Atlanta’s academy in place in 2016, they were also able to snag Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin to Homegrown Player deals. 

2018 USL Cup Final: Est. Week of November 5, 2018

  • Once the USL season is over, FC Cincinnati should start announcing players they’d like to carry over from the current squad to their MLS roster. For their 2017 debut, Minnesota signed 5 players to MLS deals from their NASL squad. Do not take these signings lightly as 4 of these players are still with Minnesota including Christian Ramirez who scored 14 goals in 2017.

2018 MLS Cup Final: December 8, 2018

Half Day Trade Window: December 9, 2018

  • This 4-hour trade window can be useful for FC Cincinnati to get a head start on their roster. In 2017 expansion side LAFC acquired USMNT CB Walker Zimmerman from FC Dallas in exchange for 500k in allocation money.  Veteran forward Kei Kamara was also moved in the window to Vancouver in exchange for MLS SuperDraft picks.

FC Cincinnati MLS Expansion Draft: December 11, 2018 (Based on LAFC Expansion Draft)

  • FC Cincinnati should be entitled to draft 5 players from a list of current MLS players. Existing teams were allowed to protect 11 players from their Senior, Supplemental, and Reserve Roster. Generation Adidas and Homegrown players are automatically protected. In 2017 LAFC traded away 2 of their 5 picks in exchange for starting CB Laurent Ciman. They also picked up their starting GK Tyler Miller. In the 2016 MLS Expansion Draft, Atlanta United and Minnesota United traded away 6 of their combined 10 picks. Expect FC Cincinnati to be active in the trade market as well. Other MLS clubs could eye players they’ve had their eyes on allowing FC Cincinnati to pick up important assets. Coming into the league in 2019 is a huge benefit in this regard. Instead of trying to outmaneuver Nashville and Miami, FCC will have this pool to themselves.

Free Agency Begins: December 11, 2018

  • Free Agency is limited in Major League Soccer. The list is restricted to Eligible players who are 28 years of age and older with eight MLS service years and who are out of contract – or have had their option declined. This could be a place where FC Cincinnati could pick up an “older” quality veteran to plug into key spots on the squad. Following the 2015 season, Drew Moor was signed by Toronto and has been a key part to their defense the last two and a half seasons. 2017 Expansion side Atlanta United picked up Jeff Larentowicz and made 33 appearances that season.

MLS Waiver Draft: December 12, 2018

  • The MLS Waiver Draft consists of players who have been waived by their clubs but do not meet the minimum years of service requirement for Re-Entry Draft or Free Agency. Unlike the Superdraft where FC Cincinnati would pick first, this draft is conducted in reverse order of the 2018 season finish with FC Cincinnati picking last. Teams can pass on their selection if they chose. In 2017 two players were taken while zero were chosen in 2016.

2018 MLS Re-Entry Draft: Stage 1- December 14, 2018, Stage 2- December 20, 2018

  • The MLS Re-Entry draft gives teams a chance to pick MLS players who haven’t agreed to a new contract with their current club but may want to stay in the league. Stage 1 allows the club to exercise the contract option on the player. Stage 2 the team will have the right to negotiate with the player on a new contract. Also in reverse order of season finish, the 2017 version saw 5 players chosen including MLS veteran Mike Grella who is now with the Crew SC. With free agency, the use of this draft has decreased but if a player like Grella were available, you could expect FC Cincinnati to jump at the chance. 

MLS Player Combine: start Jan 3-9, 2019

  • The player combine is where MLS coaches and staff go to scout prospects heading into the MLS Superdraft. The combine consists of invitees from top youth national teams, college, and international players. During the combine, players will participate in performance tests and matches to show off their talent.

MLS Superdraft: Jan 9-12, 2019 United Soccer Coaches Convention, McCormick Place Chicago, IL

  • MLS holds their Superdraft at the annual United Soccer Coaches Convention due to be held in Chicago Illinois in 2019. Expect rounds 1 & 2 to be held in person on January 11 with rounds 3 & 4 to be held the following Sunday via conference call. As an expansion side, FC Cincinnati would get the first pick in each round. Expansion side Orlando City landed a gem in forward and Canadian national team player Cyle Larin. In 2017 LAFC drafted Joao Moutinho and the defender has made several appearances for the squad. Expect FCC to use their other picks to fill out depth and potentially a USL squad.

Notable #1 Picks Include:

  • 2016: Jack Harrison- NYCFC
  • 2015: Cyle Larin- Orlando City
  • 2007: Maurice Edu- Toronto FC
  • 2004: Freddy Adu- D.C. United

Preseason Begins: January 21, 2019

1st Week of MLS Matches: March 2, 2019

In addition to these dates, there are several other ways FC Cincinnati can build their roster including loan deals, transfers, and trades. The club can use vehicles such as the Designated Player rule and well as Targeted Allocation and General Allocation monies to build the roster. This article serves as the expected timeframe which FC Cincinnati will use to build their roster.


@bradleysweigel for @CincySoccerTalk

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