Last week, Sporting Kansas City and Canadian defender Marcel de Jong 'mutually' parted ways after one season with the club. The next day Ottawa Fury FC of the NASL signed the defender. This came as a bit of a surprise to some fans as it was believed that Marcel de Jong was capable enough to be on an MLS roster. After all, he had played for 10 in the Dutch and German leagues, including 5 with FC Augsburg, had 42 caps for the Canadian national team, and will be a key contributor to the national team's attempt to qualify for the World Cup. And yet, the 29-year-old was unable to find employment in MLS.
The easiest response for Canadian fans to Marcel de Jong transitioning to NASL is to blame the MLS rules on international players. In the rules it states that Canadian players count as domestics for Canadian-based teams (Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, and Montreal Impact) but require an international spot for American-based teams. However, a look at the MLS rosters will reveal that many teams do not use up all of their international roster positions. In fact, Vancouver and Montreal are two of the teams with the most international players.
Each year teams are given 8 international roster spots. As there are 20 teams, this means that there are 160 roster spots available. Vancouver uses 12, Montreal 10, and Toronto FC 5. That leaves 133 international roster spots available to the other 17 teams. I have summarized each American team's use of international roster positions, based on their most recent roster situation. For the 17 American-based teams, 116 of a possible 133 international roster positions are being used. Or, that there are 17 unfilled 'potential' international spots.
8 or More: New York City FC (11), Orlando City (11), New York Red Bulls (9), and Columbus Crew SC (8)
7 Internationals: Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders
6 or Fewer: Portland Timbers (6); San Jose Earthquakes (6), Sporting Kansas City (5), D.C. United (4), Real Salt Lake (4), New England Revolution (3)
Now, one could argue that it is not necessarily a situation of there being enough international roster positions available but rather the allocation of those roster positions. That could be a fair argument; except when we examine the roster transactions and the trading of international roster positions, we see that it does not take much for a team to acquire a slot. In most circumstances is only requires a little bit of funny money. While we are not privy to the EXACT amount of targeted or general allocation money required, I would gather that it is not much. This is supported by some of the existing deals that do not include allocation funds. For example, Real Salt Lake permanently traded a slot to Colorado Rapids for Adolfo Gregorio while the Vancouver Whitecaps acquired an international slot from Colorado 21 years! for Sanna Nyassi and 4 years for Atiba Harris.
Coming back to the case of Marcel de Jong, Sporting Kansas City did not release him because he required an international roster position, as they are currently using only 5. Moreover, de Jong did not fail to be picked up by another American-based team because he required an international roster position. The reason is completely different. Now, we can argue as to what that reason it, but that is not my intended purpose with this article. The purpose is to provide evidence (maybe) that the lack of Canadian players in MLS is not the result of them requiring an international roster position.