MLS Rules

Loans between MLS teams given green light for 2013

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Every year or so, Major League Soccer introduces a new wrinkle to the roster rules that govern the league. Sometimes they make sense; the Designated Player Rule finally gave teams a method to operate outside the stringent Salary Cap to bring in a pricier player (and later multiple players). Other times, the purpose seems less urgent. Last year, the Young Designated Player Rule was introduced, giving some further flexibility even though most teams haven’t quite taken advantage of this aspect.

And earlier this year, the League announced plans to merge Reserve teams with the 3rd Division USL-Pro. That includes some provisions for teams to loan players to local USL-Pro teams for the season, rather than field full Reserve squads. Currently the Philadelphia Union have four players at Harrisburg: Cristhian Hernandez, Jimmy McLaughlin, Greg Jordan, and Don Anding. This arrangement appears to be going well for both teams, as evidenced by their contributions to Harrisburg’s 2-0-0 record and some early season awards.

Now MLS has come out and acknowledged that they have introduced procedures for MLS teams to arrange loan deals within the league. This process is said to have already begun for the 2013 season, but we were only informed recently in an article by Simon Borg. It appears that no deals have been struck as of yet. The timing of this announcement comes with limited time remaining for teams to take advantage as the primary transfer window closes on May 6.

Why loan within MLS?

Theoretically, this new intra-league loan mechanism is necessary because of the emergence of the Homegrown Rule and the development of academies tied to MLS teams. The number of homegrown players signed within MLS keeps growing. The number of SuperDraft rounds has decreased, but there are still Supplemental Rounds. With so many younger players entering the league, teams need ways to develop these players. This is the case with the quartet currently at the City Islanders. Yet there could be cases where MLS action is necessary for players to grow and the new loan rule should address this.

Basically, the player needs to be under the age of 25, and the loan deal must be a season-long arrangement worked out financially between the two teams. Teams can loan or take on loan as many players as they desire, as long as they happen in the primary transfer window (which ends on May 6 in 2013). It may take a couple of years to flesh out which teams will benefit most from this institution. It would be easy to assume it would help the bigger teams, but ithis remains to be seen.

Could the Union benefit?

Let’s think about this from the Union standpoint. What players from the current roster would make sense to loan out to another MLS side?

We can immediately throw out anyone that’s 25 or over. I doubt you want to send away players who are getting serious first team minutes with the Union. Plus you already have the four aforementioned players in Harrisburg. That really takes care of a lot of the roster. Additionally, certain players are needed for depth—remember, if you loan a player, you can’t get him back until the season ends. Unless the team has complete assurances the player will get much more playing time at the other team, it would be better to have him in town where the Union can control his training and also call on him to start in case of injury.

The only player that really sticks out for me as a guy who could stand to benefit would be everyone’s favorite playmaker, Roger Torres. This would frustrate a ton of Union supporters, who have vociferously called for the Colombian to gain more playing time. But the 21-year-old midfielder is getting little time on the pitch with Philadelphia. He was a key player in the Union’s preseason, but cannot work his way into John Hackworth’s first XI.

For Torres though, the real question is: can a team be found in MLS that would be willing to use him regularly? The kicker for Torres might be the deadline. Two years ago when Javier Morales and David Ferreira were injured, RSL or Dallas could have taken a chance on an affordable option on loan like Torres. In the current situation, it remains to be seen if there would be a suitor.

As far as loans into Philadelphia, the Union still have a glaring hole at left back. The Los Angeles Galaxy have a 22-year-old fullback named Greg Cochrane that could be a natural fit on the left for the Union. One issue could be that Todd Dunivant hasn’t been in perfect health thus far this season for LA. Bruce Arena may not be willing to part with the youngster for the remainder of 2013.

The other position of need is in central defense. Amobi Okugo has paired well with Jeff Parke, but Philadelphia could stand to use Okugo in the midfield to help stitch together the attack. The youngster being brought in would have to be a game-changing back though—no team wants a weak link in their backline. That also assumes that Bakary Soumare is not in the plans for Hackworth and his staff, which hasn’t been explicitly stated.

2013 outlook for loans

It’s difficult to see the new loan rule having a lot of consequence or use in the short term. It may take a couple of spring windows to gauge what deals work well, and which are least effective. One possible beneficial change to the new mechanism would be allowing loan arrangements to be obtained until the close of the fall window. Summer wear and tear can take its toll on a roster, and it’s easy to envision more movement as teams try to fill serious gaps in their squad. As it stands, I’m not sure teams would want to risk their own depth long-term (six months) at the chance a player would ride the bench on loan. If loans result in no more minutes than the player would have grabbed at their parent team, then what’s the point?

What do you think? Are there other Union players that you think could benefit from a loan spell within MLS? Do you think this rule makes a lot of sense? Or are you skeptical that it will have any meaningful result within the league? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.


  1. Chandler Hoffm- oh, wait.

    • Philly Cheese says:

      Chandler happy to be learning from Keene and Donovan even though he is not in 18 yet.

      Greg Cochrane…isn’t he the LB Union could have picked up in draft, who has started one game and been in 18 several,times for MLS Champion Galaxymas a rookie? I must be mistaken…..Union wouldn’t let an identified need go unfulfilled, right?

  2. Im actually very suspicious about how this would work – with a tight restriction on salary and roster space already , would you loan someone that might be needed to another team that has limitations on roster space/salary cap? If it is a young player not getting game time for you – would another team even play him? If it is a “position of need” (i.e. we get a backup defender, someone else loans a backup midfielder from us) – is that player going to be such a game changer that you couldn’t have got someone similar anyway? (or didn’t think it was needed). Loans are important, i just can’t see it working from MLS side to MLS side like it does when there are no restrictions in place.

    • This is perfect for Roger Torres. He will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever see the field for the Union. (my current theory has it that he slept with Hack’s wife) So might as well loan him out so you can possibly get some good transfer offers.

  3. I suspect this will only be used to help fill out Reserve squads, or maybe to swap around goalkeeper depth. I’d be surprised to see anyone on an Intra-MLS loan in a meaningful match this year.

  4. Roger Torres. Under 24, salary over $100k, not playing. Could pave the way for a full transfer/trade.

    Leo Fernandes. Buried in a deep midfield but didn’t go on loan to Harrisburg.

    Aaron Wheeler. Currently the 5th forward on a team that plays only two. However, he might now be Casey’s backup, if Hackworth wants to ensure a target forward is in the lineup.

    Not sure the age restriction is wise. This would be ideal for Soumare right now.

    • Jim Presti says:

      +1. my sentiments exactly. Especially in regards to an age limit.

    • I can see your point with Fernandes and Wheeler, and had considered them. Fernandes would be a better fit to be loaned out IMO than Wheeler, mostly because of what you point out about Wheeler’s size and being a role fill-in for Casey. Harrisburg would seem like a better fit for Fernandes, rather than another MLS team.

      And you make a good point about age. It can often seem like MLS makes rules when petitioned by a team or teams. Perhaps there are a couple of deals in the works involving young players, and MLS wanted to wait to see how this works before expanding to all ages.

  5. With the parity among most MLS teams, the intra-league loan system doesn’t sound like a great option, especially with the limited depth in most squads. Compared to loans to higher or lower leagues, these moves will be few and far between. However, it is nice to have a system in place for intra-league moves. I agree that the age restriction doesn’t make much sense.

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