MLS 101

MLS 101: What is the U-22 Initiative?

MLS 101

A relatively new addition to MLS rules and regulations will allow Charlotte FC to add young talent to its inaugural roster. The latest edition of MLS 101 focuses on the U-22 Initiative.

What is the U22 initiative?

The U-22 Initiative was first introduced to Major League Soccer in April 2021, in order to encourage teams to use their rosters to develop young talent.

It allows MLS clubs to sign up to three players, aged 22 and younger, at a reduced Salary Budget charge. This frees up more of the Salary Budget and makes it more appealing to sign talented young players to lucrative contracts.

How exactly do U-22 Initiative players affect the salary budget?

A reminder: the Salary Budget is the salary cap of each MLS team, and represents the amount a team can spend on its roster. In 2022, the Salary Budget is set at $4.9m, and the maximum Salary Budget charge for any single player is $612,500 (excluding Designated Players).

However, the Salary Budget charge for a U-22 Initiative player who is 20 years old or younger is just $150,000. That figure rises to $200,000 for players who will be aged between 21 and 23 during the league season.

Hence, a team could theoretically sign three high-quality young players, from anywhere in the world, and see a maximum total Salary Budget charge of just $600,000.

How does the U-22 Initiative affect player compensation?  

U-22 players can still earn up to the Maximum Salary Budget Charge ($612,500) in any given year, including option years.

A Homegrown or SuperDraft player on his second contract may earn up to $200,000 above the Maximum Salary Budget Charge in any given year, including option years.

Where do U-22 players fit within the roster? 

Another reminder: MLS teams are allowed up to 30 players on their roster, but roster slots 1-20 are known as the “Senior Roster.” The salaries of those 20 players count towards the Salary Budget.

Each MLS team is permitted up to three U-22 Initiative Slots, each of which will occupy a Senior Roster slot.

Per MLS rules, a club will have all three U-22 Initiative Slots available if its third Designated Player Slot is vacant. It can also have three U-22 Initiative players if the third Designated Player is a Young Designated Player. (For example, NYCFC signed 19-year-old Brazilian forward Talles Magno in May 2021 and assigned him a Young Designated Player slot, which allowed them to designate Thiago Andrade, Santiago Rodriguez and Nicolas Acevedo as U-22 players.)

Does Charlotte FC have any U-22 Initiative players?

Yes! On December 13, Charlotte FC signed Vinicius Mello, marking its first U-22 initiative player. The 19-year-old Brazilian forward will also occupy an international roster slot.


Which players are eligible for the Initiative? 

Players from outside the United States and Canada, such as Mello, are eligible when they sign their first MLS contract. Homegrown players, meanwhile, are eligible on either their first or second contract. And SuperDraft picks are eligible for the initiative on their second MLS contract.

The rule encourages the development of younger players, who are permitted to occupy the U-22 Initiative Slot at reduced Salary Budget charge through the season they turn 25 years old.

How useful is the initiative for Charlotte FC’s 2022 roster construction?

“The U-22 Initiative is a great new mechanism for Charlotte FC to add young talent to our rosters,” says Director of Player Personnel Bobby Belair. “MLS clubs have more incentive to acquire U-22 players, now that they don’t have to be categorized as Young Designated Players. 

“There is less immediate pressure on U-22 players to perform at the level of Designated Players, and with proper coaching, they should become exciting players in MLS. We saw how impactful U-22 players were during NYCFC’s playoff run and MLS Cup victory this year, and I believe this rule makes our league more exciting on the field, and more competitive in the transfer market.”