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MLS Homegrown Players 101: Digging deeper into the Andrew Carleton signing

Understanding the Homegrown rule

Charleston Battery

In 2008, Major League Soccer wanted to give its clubs more incentive to produce and develop their own talent. They initiated the Homegrown Player Rule, allowing teams to sign players developed in their youth academies before they enter the SuperDraft. The teams also receive roster benefits.

Over 70 players currently in the league are classified as Homegrown players. Nearly 70 more have left the Homegrown program as of May 5. FC Dallas has made the most Homegrown player signings with fourteen, seven are currently with the team and another is with a different team in MLS.

There are many players who entered the league through this rule and have since moved abroad. DeAndre Yedlin of Seattle was the first Homegrown player to participate in the World Cup for the US national team. Andy Najar was sold by DC United to Anderlecht for a reported $3 million in 2013 and went on to play for the Honduran national team. Juan Agudelo was transferred to Stoke City in 2014 and has since returned to the league.

Success Stories

Diego Fagundez of New England is a player's path that Andrew Carleton will be hoping to emulate. He signed with the Revolution when he was 15 years old in November 2010. He had joined the Revolution's Academy one year earlier. He made his professional debut at 16 years years old in the US Open Cup in April 2011 and made his MLS debut a few months later, he made six overall appearances for the Revolution in his rookie season.

It was the second half of his second year that saw Fagundez become a mainstay in the New England lineup. In 2015, he became the youngest player in MLS history to reach 100 regular season appearances.

Another recent success story is Gyasi Zardes, currently playing with the US national team in the Copa America Centenario. He played for LA Galaxy Academy teams from 2008-10 and went on to play at Cal State Bakersfield. He was signed as a Homegrown player after his junior season in college in December 2012. He has since played over 100 times for the Galaxy in MLS competition, won a MLS Cup, become a regular for the national team, and signed a multi-year contract extension before the start of this season.

Andy Najar is an example of another route for Homegrown players and the clubs that sign them to be successful. He signed with DC United just after his 17th birthday in 2010 from their Academy. He was named Rookie of the Year in MLS in his first season and starred as a right winger and right back during his time in Washington. In January 2013, moved to Anderlecht of the Belgian Pro League for a reported $3 million. He has become a regular with the Honduran national team and has compiled over thirty caps at the age of 23.

Navigating the MLS Roster Rules

Beyond what they can deliver on the field, Homegrown players are beneficial to MLS teams in terms of how a roster is constructed. In a salary cap league in any sport, teams that get value out of every spot on the roster are generally more successful. Homegrown players allow teams to maximize value deeper in their roster in MLS.

From the official MLS roster rules:


Players signed through the Homegrown Player mechanism (see below in Player Acquisition Mechanisms) will receive the designation of “Homegrown Player” on a club’s roster.

There is no limit to the number of Homegrown Players a club may sign in a given year.

Homegrown Players may occupy a spot on the Senior, Supplemental, or Reserve Roster.

If a Homegrown Player is initially added to a Club’s Supplemental or Reserve Roster and subsequently moved to the Senior Roster, he cannot be moved back to the Supplemental or Reserve Roster except if he is earning either (i) the Senior Minimum Salary Budget Charge or (ii) Reserve Minimum Salary Budget Charge.

Homegrown Player(s) on either the Supplemental Roster or the Reserve Roster may earn (including achievable bonuses) in aggregate each year up to $125,000 above the Reserve Minimum Salary ($51,500 in 2016) or the Senior Minimum Salary ($62,500 in 2016).

The $125,000 bump that clubs can utilize to sign Homegrown players is new, and it helped the Seattle Sounders sign Jordan Morris to a Homegrown contract this season.

Another key note is that the players on the Supplemental and Reserve portion of the team’s roster do not count against the salary cap. A team that produces contributing Homegrown players can gain some significant advantages.

In MLS, there are a variety of methods to acquire players, here is the Homegrown section from the Roster Rules:


A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.

There is no limit to the number of Homegrown Players a club may sign in a given year.

The “member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements” section is important to note. With Atlanta United absorbing the current Georgia United U16 and U18 USSF Developmental Academy teams, Carleton will be able to meet these requirements. However, it is important to note this part of Atlanta United’s press release about the signing:

Carleton will be added to Atlanta’s roster as a Homegrown Player in 2017 upon completion of the necessary Homegrown Player training requirements.

Carleton has spent quite a bit of time with the US youth national teams this year, resulting in only 12 appearances with the Georgia United U18 team during the current season. The missed time is likely the reason for the clarification “upon completion of the necessary Homegrown Player training requirements.”

What does this mean for Carleton?

A Homegrown player signing is not a guarantee of success. FC Dallas is typically regarded as the gold standard of youth development in MLS, and they have 7 of their 14 Homegrown signings still with the team. Not all of them are contributing consistently. Other teams have a much lower success rate.

However, for every Homegrown signing that does not make it, there are success stories like Najar winning Rookie of the Year at 17 years old and Zardes growing into a starter with the US National Team. Many other key players in MLS this season started as Homegrown signings.

According to Carlos Bocanegra, the rest of 2016 will see Carleton training with the Atlanta United academy, the Charleston Battery, and the US U17 national team. He will be part of Atlanta United’s inaugural first team training camp starting in January 2017.

Will he earn significant playing time in 2017? There is so much unknown at this point without a manager or full roster, it is impossible to say. However, Carleton now has nine months to prove that he deserves it.