Composition of MLS squads is changing as green-card holders proliferate

As MLS introduced TAM in 2015 and then Discretionary TAM in 2018, the number of players clubs imported has picked up.

And inevitably, many of them have received green cards as permanent residents, creating space for even more international players to be signed.

Each team begins with a maximum of eight international roster slots -- for a maximum of 208 across the league -- though they can be traded, allowing a team to have more than eight slots.

But a player's status doesn't depend on whether he is a U.S. citizen and eligible to play for the USA (or Canadian and eligible to play for Canada in the case of players on the three Canadian teams).

A player doesn't count as an international player if he holds a green card or other special status (refugee or asylum status) or -- this is rare -- qualifies under the Homegrown International Rule.

Players receiving green cards have come in bunches this winter. In mid-January alone ...

Jan. 14. Atlanta United freed up three international roster spots when Ezequiel Barco, Franco Escobar and Eric Remedi, all three Argentines in their third MLS seasons, became permanent U.S. residents.

Jan. 17.  FC Cincinnati midfielder Allan Cruz and defender Mathieu Deplagne, both second-year players, obtained green cards and became permanent U.S. residents.

Jan. 20. Third-year D.C. United midfielders Junior Moreno and Ulises Segura, from Venezuela and Costa Rica, respectively, obtained their green cards that granted them permanent residence.

Jan. 22. Inter Miami's Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza both received green cards. What was unusual about the pair of Argentines is that neither has yet to play an MLS game.

Of the 23 U.S. teams in MLS, 13 have as many or more foreigners (international players and green card or special-status holders) as they have U.S. citizens on their current rosters. (That number will likely decrease as teams fill out their supplemental and reserve rosters ahead of the start of the 2020 season on Feb. 29.)

Of the 572 players currently on these 23 rosters, only 281 -- 49 percent -- are eligible to play for the USA. (Six others are U.S. citizens who represent other countries internationally.)

LAFC, the winner of the 2019 Supporters' Shield with a record 72 points, lists 24 players on its 2020 roster: eight Americans and 16 foreigners (three Uruguayans, two Canadians, two Colombians, two Ecuadorans, two Mexicans, one Brazilian, one Dutchman, one Egyptian, one Ghanaian and one Norwegian).

Three LAFC players were signed as Designated Players -- Brian Rodriguez, Diego Rossi, Carlos Vela -- and seven were signed using TAM -- Kenneth Vermeer, Diego Palacios, Eddie Segura, Danilo Silva, Eduard Atuesta, Jose Cifuentes and Francisco Ginella. Atuesta and Rossi have since obtained green cards.

Of the 26 players on the Portland Timbers' roster, only seven -- Jeff Attinella, Steve Clark, Marco Farfan, Jorge Villafana, Blake Bodily, Eryk Williamson and Jeremy Ebobisse -- are U.S. citizens and eligible to play for the U.S. national team. (Colombian star Diego Chara became a U.S. citizen last fall.)

The Houston Dynamo's projected starting lineup as picked by's Matt Doyle consists of three Hondurans, two Argentines, two Colombians, one Chilean, one Slovenian, one Swede and a Croatian-Austrian in goal. Five -- soon, six -- of them hold green cards.

Only three Western Conference teams were projected to start as many as six Americans: Colorado, FC Dallas and Nashville SC.
14 comments about "Composition of MLS squads is changing as green-card holders proliferate".
  1. Wallace Wade, February 11, 2020 at 7:57 a.m.

    Great to see Houston Dynamo abandon local player development! No American's in projected starting lineup!!

  2. don Lamb replied, February 11, 2020 at 10:45 a.m.

    They just hired Tab Ramos, so that is changing. Hopefully Marcelo Palomino can have a good start to his career under Tab after coming back from testing Europe.

  3. Ben Myers, February 11, 2020 at 9:59 a.m.

    This article confirms what we have suspected all along.  MLS is perhaps the worst possible vehicle for the development of elite American players.  But those players developed in other countries come cheap and green cards are easy.

  4. Guy Walling, February 11, 2020 at 10:09 a.m.

    I hope you are being sarcastic! Greencard proliferating MLS will be the demise of our national teams from U14 up. It will also destroy the fabric of our youth system if the kids have no hope and dream of ever playing for their own domestic league. We need to have league quota put into place similar to the LaLiga where a club has to have 70% of domestic players on the roster. Having more domestic players will also help build the fan base. I would go want to go to more MLS games if I knew I was going to watch potential US stars. Now that is worth spending my money on. Let's not give into the ills of MLS soccer's philosophy of immediate gratification! If soccer is going to last in this country, MLS must understand that our youth is OUR future!!

  5. R2 Dad replied, February 11, 2020 at 11:32 a.m.

    USSF is too busy not caring. 

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, February 11, 2020 at 3:04 p.m.

    Green cards are not the problem. MLS treating green cards as a US passport is the problem.

  7. Larry Chen, February 11, 2020 at 10:41 a.m.

    This flies in the face of all the young homegrown signings that are taking place. Crystal ball?

  8. humble 1, February 11, 2020 at 11:37 a.m.

    Good article, it is however not new news, rather, it is a nice piece looking at a trend that has been there a long time, from the perspective of green cards.  Look at the goals scored by Americans in MLS - this is the bottom line.  Going no-where.  Real question here is a chicken / egg question.  Do we lack national players in the MLS because of foreign players are allowed or because we cannot develop players here?  I believe it is the later.  Why can't the DA, with all their resources and over  a decade of work produce players that can play in MLS?  That is the real question.  Since 2007, we've had the DA and let's see what happens with Olympic Qualification (U23), but if they don't get one of the two slots from CONCACAF, what does this say?  Then we look at the MLS, where for me, I look at goals scored by ex-USA players, which is the majority.  Kids are literally running away from the development platform here as soon as they turn 18 not because they won't get a chance to play, which is true, but because they won't get a chance to DEVELOP!  We need some accountabilty, otherwise, the wheel keeps turning and things will not get better. 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 11, 2020 at 3:06 p.m.

    What worries me is that USSF has now patterned the formerly successful women's development program after the failed men's program.

  10. humble 1, February 11, 2020 at 11:46 a.m.

    to be fair, not just to rant, I would being an exit strategy for the DA tomorrow and get USSF out of player development.  We now have ECNL for boys and girls and lots of other leagues.  Let USSF focus on the things they need to focus on; identifying and selecting players for the Youth and Women's/Men's National Teams; negotiating with clubs to get the players when they need them; making sure players they follow are being properly cared for by their clubs;  guiding players to make good decisions about where they play; and maybe work the the collegiate organzations a little instead of against them as they have the bulk of the facilities and amatuer players in the US the play after 18.  USSF has done enough investment to help MLS get their academies up and running.  Cut the cord.  Let's see how MLS does on their own.  Lets see what the nation can do to develop players in a more decentralized (read ex-Chicago) fashion.  

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, February 11, 2020 at 3:07 p.m.


  12. R2 Dad replied, February 11, 2020 at 3:23 p.m.

    Very interesting that USSF dove into the DA youth leagues before they had even ironed out Division 2/3/4. Note to USSF: If the league is just a shell for the competitiion, it won't ever go bust. We can have permanent structure and stability instead of, say, the NASL dumpster fire.

  13. Jonathan Mamula, February 11, 2020 at 2:32 p.m.

    FC Dallas--the model for US player development!

  14. Scott Matulis, March 4, 2020 at 5:38 p.m.

    While bringing in more international players is undoubtedly good for the quality of the league, it's a bummer for our domestic kids who want to play in MLS. I'm an LAFC fan, and as far as I can tell, the only Americans who start or even play are Harvey and Blackmon. I read something where the minutes of domestic players have been drastically reduced over the past few years. Frankly, it's the same in college soccer where roster spots are increasingly given to foreign kids.  Not sure what the answer is because, after all, this is the US, and fans demand the best product on the field, but lots of other leagues have international player caps to encourage the development of domestic players.

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