The mysterious international slots
February 21, 2011
One of the ongoing subplots of this offseason is the growing number of international players on RBNY. From the world-known names of Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez to basically unknown Marcos Paullo, the Metro roster is peppered from players from every corner of the globe. And these players take international slots.
According to MLS, each team starts out with eight international slots. Slots can be traded, so it's entirely possible for a team to have more. However, right now, Metro has 12 internationals under contract, and with possible signing of Teemu Tainio, the list can blow up to 13. (There are actually more foreign-born players than the 12 internationals, but Juan Agudelo, Danleigh Borman, Giorgi Chirgadze, Bouna Coundoul, Dane Richards, Greg Sutton, and Tony Tchani are saved by either dual citizenship or green cards.)
We know for a fact that Metro traded for international slots three times in recent years. It happened twice in 2009, when one slot was acquired in a deal to San Jose for Chris Leitch, the other was bought from Houston for allocation money. The last trade occurred last year, when Colorado shipped a slot to Metro in the Mac Kandji trade (that part of the deal was actually undocumented). What is not known is how long those slots were acquired for, and if Metro still owns them. That information is shrouded by the league in unfathomable secrecy.
But even if those three slots are still Metro's, that gives us a total of eleven. Which means that either some slots were acquired without announcement, some players might be receiving green cards that will remove their international status, or some cuts have to be made, especially if Tainio is signed.
Of the 12 internationals currently on the roster, we would call three (Henry, Marquez, Joel Lindpere) absolute certainties to make it to opening day. Newly-signed Luke Rodgers and Jan Gunnar Solli, figure to be there as well, as is the re-signed Carl Robinson. Roy Miller is the starter at left back, so that leaves five players (not counting Tainio yet): Mehdi Ballouchy, Salou Ibrahim, Brian Nielsen, Marcos Paullo, and John Rooney.
Of the five, Ballouchy seems the safest, since Hans Backe went out of his way to put him into the lineup last year (although his inability to travel outside of the US during this preseason could not have helped). Paullo is a newly-signed project, Rooney a newly-drafted one, precisely the players you want to fill out a team's 30-man roster.
Which leaves us with Ibrahim and Nielsen, former teammates at Velje in Denmark. The former is in the second year of a two-year guaranteed deal, does not figure to start, and is earning north of 250,000. The latter had his loan turned into a full deal, but seems to be as fragile as a porcelain doll. This year MLS introduced a new ruling, where one guaranteed deal per team can be bought out without salary cap repercussions, so it might be the case for one of these two.
Or, maybe, none of it is needed, and Metro is roster compliant is is. MLS mysteries, they never cease to amaze us...