by Ryan Bailey

MLS 101 is a new series in which we get to grips with Major League Soccer’s format, rules and regulations. We’ll also explain how Charlotte MLS will fit into the league in 2021. First up, we look at how players will be acquired.

Every Major League Soccer team’s roster comprises 30 players, all of whom are available for selection for an 18-player game-day squad.

But how will Charlotte’s team start building out its roster ahead of play in the 2021 season? And when?

Well, there are three annual opportunities in which the team can officially register new players: a pair of transfer windows, plus the MLS SuperDraft. Additionally, new franchises are able to take part in the Expansion Draft.

All is explained below:

The 2020 Primary Transfer Window

MLS clubs are allowed to add to their rosters at any time of the year. But the only times they can actually register those new players (and make them eligible to compete on the team) are the transfer windows. The windows allow clubs to sign players who were previously under contract with clubs based outside MLS. They are also when clubs can make player trades.

In Europe, the main transfer window takes place in the summer, with a month-long secondary winter window in January. The MLS season, however, starts in late February, so the windows are timed differently.

The 2020 Primary Transfer Window opens on February 12th and closes on May 5th. Charlotte is eligible for the 2020 Primary Transfer Window, but will most likely look to start adding players in this summer’s Secondary Transfer Window.

The 2020 Secondary Transfer Window

While European sides get a month-long winter window, there is a month-long summer window in MLS.

The dates for the 2020 Secondary Transfer Window have been set for July 7th until August 5th. All the same principles of the Primary Transfer Window apply.

“We have already started researching, scouting and analyzing potential targets,” said Charlotte MLS Sporting Director Zoran Krneta. “I am confident that we will be doing business in the Secondary Transfer Window in the summer of 2020.”

It’s also worth noting that teams can still make trades that do not involve players (including draft pick swaps, roster spots and allocation money) outside of the two windows. Teams can also transfer or loan players to non-MLS clubs at any time outside of the windows.

The official MLS site does an excellent job of tracking all transfer activity and rumors. You can see all the potential deals that may go down in the upcoming Primary Transfer Window here.

The 2020 Expansion Draft

Ahead of their inaugural season, MLS expansion sides can also participate in the Expansion Draft, when they can pick five players from existing teams.

For example, at the 2019 Expansion Draft in November, Nashville SC and Inter Miami alternated five picks each. The Florida side picked up former MVP candidate Lee Nguyen from LAFC, while Nashville used its first pick to bring in striker Abu Danladi from Minnesota Utd.

Expansion clubs can’t just take any players they would like from other teams, though. Current clubs are able to protect 12 players from the Expansion Draft, and any side that gave up players in the previous year’s draft is exempt from participating.

Charlotte and fellow 2021 starters Austin FC will be able to participate in the 2020 Expansion Draft, which will likely be held around November 2020.

NYCFC, FC Cincinnati, LAFC, Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders, Minnesota Utd, Portland Timbers, New England Revolution, Atlanta Utd and Sporting Kansas City will likely be exempt from giving up players to Charlotte, as they gave players to Nashville SC and Inter Miami in 2019.

Typically, the five players drafted by expansion teams in the Expansion Draft do not all end up playing for the team — at least one pick is usually traded to other clubs in exchange for other players or assets. Nashville, for example, traded Brandon Vazquez to FC Cincinnati in exchange for allocation money. (More on the concept of allocation money will come in a future edition of MLS 101).

The 2021 MLS SuperDraft

The MLS SuperDraft closely follows the format of the NFL Draft. Expansion teams receive the first picks, then the current clubs pick in reverse order of their finish the previous season.

Most draft prospects are NCAA college seniors who have exhausted their college eligibility. The SuperDraft also features Generation adidas Players (a program that features top collegiate underclassmen and youth national team players) and some non-collegiate international players.

The 2020 SuperDraft takes place this January via conference call and web streaming. Each team will get four picks.

Charlotte is not eligible for the 2020 SuperDraft, but will be able to participate in January 2021.

“While we are not taking part in the 2020 SuperDraft, we will be taking a close look at the process of choosing young US talent,” Zoran said.

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The 30-man roster that Charlotte builds over the next fourteen months will be subject to an annual Salary Budget, Designated Player signings and Homegrown player rules.

We will explain these regulations in future editions of MLS 101.