Understanding Loans Between MLS and USL Teams

When it was announced that Sporting Kansas City would have their own USL team, the Swope Park Rangers, everyone had to be thinking about all the opportunities it brings. When the MLS released their roster rules last week, some of those became more clear.

As will all things related to the MLS, it’s not super clear how these loans will play out. First, USL players can only be loaned to MLS clubs for US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and friendlies (except in the case of extreme hardship). The hardship won’t be hard to come by in the case of goalkeepers. One injury would put Sporting KC below the two goalie minimum and allow them to call-up Jon Kempin (it’s been pointed out to me Kempin is already on loan, so he could just be recalled. It gets more complicated than I thought).

Some are saying no player over 25-years-old can be loaned to a USL team, but the rules don’t say that. They just say for the purpose of salary relief that a player must be under 25, be loaned for the full season, and make a senior roster minimum salary ($62,500) or less. So if a player is recovering from injury, they could go on loan to the USL team, but their salary would still count towards the MLS clubs salary.

It seems unlikely that any player on Sporting’s roster would meet the designation to apply salary relief (except Amadou Dia, Saad Abdul-Salaam and Connor Hallisey and I don’t anticipate a full season loan for any of them). The exception could be Faik Hajderovic, Sporting’s fourth round SuperDraft pick in 2016, who is still not under contract. If he were signed to SKC instead of the Rangers, I would full expect him to be loaned out.

Overall, the loans don’t look limiting except for the fact that USL players will be less available to help the senior team (again just US Open, CCL and friendlies). However, there is a caveat for Extreme Hardship. We covered the goalkeepers, but what about field players?

Clubs may add players to their roster in cases of “Extreme Hardship.” Extreme Hardship exists when an MLS club has fewer than 15 total players available or when an MLS club with three goalkeepers on its roster, has fewer than two goalkeepers available.

USL Player Short Term Agreements in cases of Extreme Hardship
Clubs may sign players, 25-years-old or younger, from their USL affiliate (on loan) to a Short Term Agreement (up to four-day contracts) for MLS league season games only in cases of Extreme Hardship.

That would seem to imply if injuries get bad (as they did in 2015) the team could call up some players for depth on short-term contracts. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that but it’s good that there are options. There were games in 2015 when Sporting KC couldn’t even dress a full 18 players, so it’s always a possibility.

Something else worth pointing out is that MLS teams will need to add players on their USL affiliate to their discovery list to protect them and that they can only protect three players.

In addition to Homegrown Players and College Protected Players – clubs may have priority for up to three players from their USL affiliate. In order to retain priority on any additional USL affiliate players, such players must be added to an MLS club’s Discovery List.

It’s unclear if this applies to MLS teams that own their USL teams, or just affiliates. My assumption would be that the Swope Park Rangers are not an affiliate, so this rule wouldn’t apply. I think of an affiliate as the relationship between the Oklahoma City Energy and Sporting KC in 2015, where Sporting didn’t own that second team, just entered into an agreement with them. I’ve reached out to officials to clarify.

[Update: 3/16/16: A Sporting KC team official confirmed MLS teams do have to choose to protect up to three players from the Swope Park Rangers. So even though they “own” the team, affiliate in the context of this rule applies to both owned teams and teams with just an affiliation agreement. However, the team official did confirm that the list is fluid and Sporting can change them throughout. It’s interesting that players can be otherwise poached from USL rosters.]

So hopefully that clears things up a little bit as we head towards the start of the USL season. With those rules in mind, who would you loan to the Swope Park Rangers? We’ll be coming up with our list as the start of the season approaches for the Rangers.