MLS 101: Learn more about the Re-Entry Draft, Waiver Draft, and Free Agency

MLS logo - 2015

Bust out your notebooks everyone, classroom is in session.

OK, not really.

But there’s a lot going on this week in Major League Soccer so I thought it’d be a good time to explain some of the various mechanisms in play, including Free Agency, the MLS Re-Entry Draft, and the MLS Waiver Draft.

Here goes nothing.


This will be Major League Soccer’s first foray into Free Agency, but it’s really quite simple.

Here’s who’s eligible:

“Players 28 and older with eight years of MLS service who are out of contract, or have not had their option exercised."

These players have the ability to negotiate freely with any MLS club. One example is striker Mike Magee (31 years old, 13 years in MLS, out of contract).

Click here to see the full list of players eligible.
Free Agency begins at 10 a.m. PT on Tuesday.

Not too bad, right?


This mechanism was created back in 2010 to provide veteran players more flexibility to move within clubs in MLS. Basically, it was the pre-cursor to Free Agency. It allows less experienced players to change clubs by entering a draft. 

Teams are able to select players who meet the following criteria:

  1. Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years of MLS experience whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2016). EXAMPLE: Steven Beitashour (28 years old, 6 years in MLS, option declined)
  2. Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary (available for at least their 2015 salary). EXAMPLE: Mauro Rosales (34 years old, 5 years in MLS, out of contract)

Just because players are eligible for the MLS Re-Entry Draft doesn’t mean they have to enter it, however. They do have the option to renegotiate their contracts with their existing clubs and/or just opt out of the draft. So just because a team declined a player’s option, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re parting ways.

It could just mean they want to rework the player’s contract for salary cap purposes.

For example, Rosales opted out of last year’s Re-Entry Draft and then eventually signed a new deal with Whitecaps FC at a lower number.

So what’s the difference between Stage One and Stage Two of the draft?

It’s pretty simple.

Teams who select players in Stage One must sign the player at either their option salary for 2016 or their 2015 salary, depending on which one of the two categories they fall into (see above).

Teams selecting players in Stage Two, however, can negotiate a new salary with the player. That’s why you often see more players selected in Stage Two. Last year, just three players were selected in Stage One and eight in Stage Two.

Players who aren’t selected then become available to all teams on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The Re-Entry Draft order is determined by the reverse order of the final standings in the MLS season, taking into account postseason performance.

Here’s the full list of players eligible. Stage One of the draft is set for this Friday, December 11 at 12 p.m. PT and Stage Two is Thursday, December 17 at 12 p.m. PT.

Got it? Alright, moving on.


If you understand Free Agency and the Re-Entry Draft, then you understand the Waiver Draft, too.

That’s because the Waiver Draft consists of players whose options were declined and out-of-contract players who aren’t eligible for Free Agency or the Re-Entry Draft.

One example is Nigel Reo-Coker, who was the first pick in last year’s Waiver Draft.

The Englishman was old enough but only had two years of MLS experience under his belt, and therefore didn’t meet the minimum years of service requirement for the Re-Entry Draft.

Like the Re-Entry Draft, the Waiver Draft order is determined by the reverse order of the final standings in the MLS season, taking into account postseason performance.

The MLS Waiver Draft is set for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. PT.

So there you have it.

Basically, the more experience you have in MLS, the more freedom you have in finding a new club. The most experienced players who are out of contract or had their option declined become free agents. The rest go into the Re-Entry or Waiver Drafts, depending on their experience level and contract status. 

Hopefully that didn’t give you a headache.

I don’t blame you if it did.

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