The salary cap gets all the attention, but among the limitations the Portland Timbers must navigate as they finalize their 2016 roster are the constraints imposed by MLS’s complex roster structure.
All told, MLS team can have 28 players on their roster.
Of those 28 roster slots, 20 roster spots are on the "senior roster" that counts against the salary cap which, with the 7% annual increase agreed upon on last year’s collective bargaining agreement, should be approximately
$3,735,000. EDIT: The 2016 salary cap will be $3,664,500.
The remaining 8 spots are on the "supplemental roster," which consists of all Generation adidas players, up to four players who, according to MLS’s Roster Rules, "will earn at least $60,000," and up to four players who "will earn at least $50,000." It is not clear under the Roster Rules, however, if there is a maximum salary to qualify for the supplemental roster, but such a limitation seems likely to exist. It is safe to assume, in any event, that the players on the supplemental roster will generally be younger, lower-paid players.
So where do the Timbers stand with respect to the 20- and 28-man rosters with less than one week before training camp? We don’t know for sure, but we can make some educated guesses:
|1. Adam Kwarasey||6. Liam Ridgewell||11. Jack Jewsbury||16. Lucas Melano|
|2. Jake Gleeson||7. Jermaine Taylor||12. George Fochive||17. Dairon Asprilla|
|3. Chris Klute||8. Alvas Powell||13. Darlington Nagbe||18. Fanendo Adi|
|4. Zarek Valentin||9. Diego Chara||14. Ned Grabavoy||19. Jack McInerney|
|5. Nat Borchers||10. Ben Zemanski||15. Diego Valeri||20. **Open**|
Although the Timbers have an open slot on remaining on the 20-man roster (assuming the Taylor deal is completed shortly), that spot is likely earmarked for Rodney Wallace’s replacement. So don’t expect any major surprises here. As for the supplemental roster, at this point of the offseason it likely looks something close to this:
|21. Taylor Peay||23. Anthony Manning||25. Ben Polk||27. **Open**|
|22. Nick Besler||24. Andy Thoma||26. Michael Seaton||28. **Open**|
One of those open slots will likely be filled by a third goalkeeper. As long as the Timbers keep Polk within the organization (which is likely considering the Timbers rated him fairly highly as a draft pick), he will have to be on the first-team roster because he signed a deal with MLS before the draft. As a practical matter, therefore, it appears the Timbers will only have one open supplemental roster spot to work with once Wallace’s replacement is signed (a move that will likely happen in the next few weeks, but does not appear imminent) and Portland inks a third goalkeeper.
Those hoping for a notable training-camp signing in the mold of Mikael Silvestre or Franck Songo’o, therefore, are likely out of luck. Many around Portland have been hoping such an open supplemental-roster spot could have Kharlton Belmar’s name on it, but Belmar’s signing to a first-team contract in camp faces considerable headwinds in light of the fact that the Timbers have Polk and Seaton as young strikers already on the first-team roster. Simply put, there is no reason to have a player on the first-team roster unless he is likely to feature for the first team in U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League competition. And in Belmar’s case, he has a good number of bodies already in front of him on the first-team roster.
It is more likely that the Timbers will leave that spot open for a midseason signing. The most likely candidate for that spot is Jamaican centerback Rennico Clarke, the consensus top prospect in the Timbers’ system but who is currently on the shelf with an ACL tear. Clarke is expected to be back in action by June, however, opening up the possibility that he could be signed to the first-team roster by the time Open Cup and/or CCL roll around.
Nonetheless, there will likely be a handful of unsigned players in training camp looking for a contract. The majority (if not all) of those players will be competing for a spot in T2. But it is possible (though unlikely) that the Timbers may ink a player to the first team if somebody fits a need and knocks the brass’s socks off in camp.
It appears highly probable, therefore, that the Timbers will be finished with major acquisitions for the offseason once the Timbers sign Wallace’s replacement. Which means soon enough the focus will turn from roster-building to game-winning.