By Ryan Bailey
The latest edition of MLS 101 focuses on the roster rule that encourages youth development within the league
What is a Homegrown player?
A Homegrown player is an academy player who is given a first-team contract. They are required to have spent at least one year in a club’s academy, and to have lived in the club’s territory.
The Homegrown Player Rule was created in 2008. Prior to this, young players would be assigned through one of the pooled allocation processes, such as the MLS SuperDraft.
Where is Charlotte FC’s territory?
A club’s territory is the region from which it has the exclusive right to source its youth players. For Charlotte FC, the territory is the entirety of North and South Carolina.
There are also some open territories, from which any MLS team can source youth players. These open territories can be found in regions all over the country, including parts of Virginia, Michigan, Alabama and Nevada.
How many Homegrown players can an MLS team sign?
There is no limit to the number of Homegrown Players that a club may sign to its first-team roster in any given year.
The 29th and 30th slots on an MLS team’s 30-man roster, however, must be dedicated to Homegrown players. Hence, in order to benefit from the maximum roster size permitted by the league, it is advantageous to have at least two Homegrown players signed to the first team.
Between June 2020 and the start of the 2021 season, a total of 33 Homegrown players were signed to first-team rosters.
How do Homegrown players affect the salary cap?
The league has put financial incentives in place for teams to field Homegrown players.
They must be paid at least the Reserve Minimum Salary ($63,547 in 2021), but their salaries only count against the team’s salary cap ($5,210,000 in 2021) if they are on the Senior Roster (roster slots 1-20). Thus, in most instances, their salary is not counted towards the cap.
Additionally, clubs may use up to $200,000 of their available Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to sign new Homegrown Players to their first MLS contract.
“Homegrown players provide great value to an MLS club’s roster, especially in the initial phase, as they do not affect the salary cap,” says Charlotte FC Technical Director Marc Nicholls.
In essence, Homegrown Player signings provide clubs with added financial flexibility in building their rosters.
Can international players also be Homegrown?
Yes, they can! If the international player is a member of an MLS academy in the year before he turns 16, he will count as a domestic player and will not take an international roster slot. (Charlotte FC will start 2022 with eight international roster slots, which can be traded for players or allocation money).
A prominent example of this scenario is Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who was born in Ghana and moved to Canada aged five, before signing a Homegrown contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Does the Charlotte FC Academy exist to produce Homegrown players?
MLS academy programs are vital to the growth of the league. The best soccer teams in the world tend to invest in youth development, which not only benefits the teams, but their respective national team programs, too.
Homegrown players are the cheapest way to fill roster spots, as no transfer fees or trades are required to sign them. And, as discussed, they can be advantageous for Salary Budget reasons.
Producing players who can later be sold at a profit also provides a sustainable business model for MLS clubs.
Charlotte FC’s Academy seeks to find the very best youth talent in the Carolinas, in order to strengthen the club on the field, and improve its sustainability.
“In simple terms it is much more efficient to develop your own players as opposed to buy them from elsewhere,” says Nicholls. “There is also no limit to how many you can sign, and of course, if they progress, they can be sold or traded either overseas or internally in MLS.”
Are there other advantages to fielding Homegrown players?
The benefits of youth development are not only financial, or related to roster building. Building a team with local players at its core can help build a strong connection with the fanbase and wider soccer community.
Local players, who have risen through the academy system, are frequently championed by local fanbases. For example, in his sophomore season with the Sounders, Seattle native and Homegrown player Jordan Morris sold more shirts than United States Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey.
“Homegrown players are an extension of the community and can be the lifeblood of the club,” says Nicholls. “We have all seen their impact at clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United over the course of history. It’s only natural for fans to see and identify with ‘one of their own.'”
How successful have Homegrown players become in MLS?
A number of players have developed impressive careers on the basis of a Homegrown contract.
At 20 years old, the aforementioned left-back Alphonso Davies has won three Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich, having started his career in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ youth program.
In 2013, DeAndre Yedlin became the Seattle Sounders’ first-ever Homegrown player, and subsequently became the first Homegrown player to make a U.S. Men’s National Team roster. After six seasons in the English Premier League with Tottenham, Sunderland and Newcastle, Yedlin now plays with Turkish giants Galatasaray.
More recently, the Philadelphia Union won their first Supporters Shield in 2020 thanks in part to standout campaigns from Homegrown players Brenden Aaronson and defender Mark McKenzie. The former is now playing in the UEFA Champions League with Red Bull Salzburg, while the latter is competing in the UEFA Europa League with Belgian side Genk.