League1Fun: The Rules – Rosters, Contracts and Yellow Cards

Ahead of the first USL League One season, we give you a rules rundown.

Teams in USL League One continue to add players to rosters and will accelerate as the opening weekend approaches. Some teams, like Orlando City B, have announced more than 20 signings.  Others might be able to field a starting 11 but their bench would be empty.

For the latter, teams will be hard at work assessing positional needs and potential signings and negotiating with players and their agents. Compliance with league roster rules will be at the forefront of the minds of the general managers and coaches.

Roster Rule Summary

USL League One roster rules are not as confusing or bureaucratic as those of Major League Soccer – No GAM, TAM or DPs here. However, there are some high-level details to be kept in mind as teams build their rosters.

Size: Teams may have up to 30 players on their active rosters. However, players may be removed and added from the “active” roster until the freeze date. Loans up and down for a team affiliated with MLS and USL Championship teams can be frequent within certain restrictions. Teams may also have up to five players on “academy contracts,” who do not count in active roster or as international roster spots (see more on these below).

International Spots: Each team is allowed up seven (7) “international” players on their rosters. These spots can be traded/sold for the season. Permanent residence of the United States (those with “green cards”) are considered domestic players, even if they play for another national team. Also, as League One is only a U.S. domestic league, Canadian players are considered international. Whereas in the USL Championship they are considered domestic.

Freeze Date: Rosters must be finalized and “frozen” by September 6, 2019. This is one month before the final regular season matches on October 5th.

Other Rules To Consider

Yellow Card Accumulation: Players will have to serve a one-match suspension if they receive five yellow cards, plus pay a monetary fine. Three additional cautions will mean another fine and a single game suspension. Players shown a total of 11 yellow cards receive a two-match suspension and fine. Finally, any player receiving a total 14 referee cautions is suspended three-games plus a fine. Yellow card accumulations only impact the regular season.

The good news is that if a player appears in five consecutive matches without sanction, one caution is removed from the accumulated total. The league notes this as their “good behavior incentive.”

The league has other rules for coach and staff behavior but given their rare occurrence, I’ll skip discussing those.

USL Academy Contracts: Academy players who are added to USL League One rosters can sign an “academy contract” which allows them to maintain college eligibility under NCAA rules. Such players, however, are considered full members of the team except for the specific items that would preclude them from being NCAA eligible. These players must be under 21 years of age at the start of the season, play for the team’s academy or a youth club affiliated with the team, and not more than five players on academy contracts can be on game day rosters.

Thoughts About The Rules

League One’s roster rules mirror those of last year’s USL and allow for very broad rosters. Teams have meaningful leeway and the ability to change rosters if necessary thought-out the season. Given that many of the teams in the league are either owned or affiliated with teams in higher divisions, this allows for significant movement between academies, League One, and senior teams. Given the grassroots and developmental role most teams fill, this is very important. For example, the USL Academy Contracts are an important feature of the league and allows for a seamless development pathway while not harming a players college eligibility.

The roster freeze date is extremely important to remember over the summer months. Teams will have five regular season matches after this date followed by the playoffs. Teams must ensure they have depth at every position in the event of injury or suspension. In a 28 match season, the final five matches will probably be extremely important for playoff spots, or at least playoff seeding – teams without depth could struggle down the stretch even if they do well though the summer.

Also, the trading of international roster spots for only one season has several implications. First, teams cannot stack the deck for multiple years by having more than seven international players for more than one season. It also may encourage some fringe international players to work toward getting their green cards so they can be rostered more easily. In a way, such activity encourages teams to utilize shorter term contracts for international players, but it also encourages the development of domestic talent to fill the roster.


Ira Jersey

twitter: @irajersey Soccer fanatic and nerd with many hobbies, Ira is a New York Red Bull supporter who loves lower division soccer. He is a youth coach with several USSF and United Soccer Coaches licenses; and also a competitive youth referee. He writes and podcasts on USL League One for BGN. Ira has worked in finance for more than two decades focusing on bond markets and is currently the Chief U.S. Interest Rate Strategist at Bloomberg Intelligence, Bloomberg LP's research arm.