Explaining MLS’s newly expanded short-term call-up rule

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

The 2022 MLS Roster Rules and Regulations contain a previously unannounced addition to the short-term call-up provisions.

Normally the newly published adjustments are interesting only to roster trivia geeks since they spell out the details of previously announced new gambits, such as the U22 Player initiative or 2023’s revised format for the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.

Last December’s Covid-affected playoff game made all Union fans aware of the Extreme Hardship categories of the short-term call-up rules. And most had earlier noticed their use in Open Cup matches, international friendlies, and other matches that do not count in Major League Soccer’s regular season standings.

Now short-term call-ups are expanded to include limited numbers of lower division players – MLS NEXT Pro or USL – for a limited number of MLS regular season matches. This allows a select few minor league players to be tested against regular season MLS competition by their parent clubs without those clubs having to commit to full-year MLS contracts in advance.

Last year 17-year-old Union Homegrown right center back Brandan Craig spent an entire season practicing with the first team but playing only for the second until Extreme Hardship provisions were triggered for the NYC FC playoff match and he was allowed to sit on the bench as depth. He had been on season-long loan to Union II, as Homegrown left back Anton Sorenson is this season.

The detailed mechanics of MLS’s new system are very different from Major League Baseball’s option system, but the effects are the same. Actual tryouts now may precede full commitment from both parties. Should an MLS NEXT Pro contracted youngster prove ready for a tryout in a regular season MLS game, he can test himself with as many as four opportunities against MLS regular season competition.

Quoted below is the full text of the relevant section of the 2022 Roster Rules and Regulations .

Affiliate Short-Term Agreements

A club may sign players from its affiliate (MLS NEXT Pro / USL) to Short-Term Agreements (up to four-day contracts) for CONCACAF Champions League, Canadian Championship, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Leagues Cup, Campeones Cup, and exhibition matches.

In addition, a club may roster up to four players on Short-Term Call Ups per MLS League Season match so long as they are Homegrown Players or Players earning less than or equal to the MLS Senior Minimum Salary ($84,000) with the affiliate. International Player limits still apply. This number will be reduced to one per League Season match after Roster Freeze (inclusive of MLS Cup Playoffs).

Additional players may also be signed to Short-Term Agreements for MLS League Season games but only in cases of Extreme Hardship.

A club may sign an individual player to a maximum of four Short-Term Agreements each season (maximum of 16 days), inclusive of all competitions.

What this means

This language would seem to allow a properly enrolled amateur player from a properly credentialed MLS Academy who is signed to a valid MLS NEXT Pro amateur contract as a Homegrown player to step onto the field against full-scale Major League Soccer professional competition four times in a season, should his club judge the exercise to his and their mutual benefit.

For the Union, 15-year-old Bajung Darboe’s performance and treatment during preseason suggest he might possibly be so judged later this season.

And the language clearly includes international players on lower division affiliates’ rosters, reinforcing rumors that such internationals may populate those affiliates’ rosters.

Ernst Tanner’s record of player judgment suggests he does not need this new rule. But the rest of the league may. And Tanner may not be Union Sporting Director forever.


  1. Gruncle Bob says:

    If international limits still apply to the MLS club, it may not be possible to call up non-green card players. That’s how I read it, for what it’s worth.

    • Tim Jones says:

      The Union sold one international slot to Houston, Feb 24th by memory, so they have their annual complement of eight.
      They currently have five internationals on the active roster, so there are three open international slots. Glesnes, Santos, and Burke getting green cards before the roster compliance day deadline opened those three slots.

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