MLS teams recently had to make sure their rosters were compliant for the start of the new season, a requirement that can lead to a flurry of last-minute squad shuffling. In the case of the New York Red Bulls, the season-starting roster purge has seen goalkeepers Rafael Diaz and Evan Louro released from the first team, per an official announcement by the club.
Both Diaz and Louro have long seemed destined for the NYRB II squad in USL. Although one would expect such a move to be announced concurrently with the players being released from their MLS contracts, there is no reason to believe they aren't heading straight to the II team, where they will compete for playing time over the 2017 season.
Still, the decision to cut both 'keepers from the first-team roster is surprising. Mostly because it leaves a squad once well-stocked at the position with just two goalkeepers under contract. But the recently-published MLS rosters do reveal the issue RBNY might have been forced to confront, leading to the decision to release both Diaz and Louro.
MLS teams are allowed 30 players on their rosters this season, and that number can be boosted to 31 if a team makes use of the ability to send a player on season-long loan to USL. Per the official roster lists, Zeiko Lewis has been loaned to USL (so expect him to show up on NYRB II's roster) and is therefore assumed to be occupying the de facto 31st roster spot.
Of the 30 remaining spots, 20 are the "Senior Roster": these are the 20 spots that count against the MLS salary cap. The remaining 10 spots are "off-budget" (i.e. don't count against the cap) subject to various restrictions, mostly relating to age and salary.
It can be assumed both Diaz and Louro would have occupied spots on the off-budget Supplemental or Reserve rosters. But the official RBNY list reveals the team's Supplemental roster is full, and there is one space remaining on the Reserve roster. These are the spots the club can use to boost its stockpile of Homegrown players, and boost their league-minimum salaries (that is is the restriction for inclusion on the off-budget rosters) with Targeted Allocation Money if necessary, per the league's latest regulations.
The 25-year-old Diaz is too old for the Reserve roster: players must 24 or younger to be on that list. Including him on the MLS roster would have forced a shuffle that would see the team's Senior roster (and salary cap) taking some sort of hit - clearly a hit RBNY wasn't willing to take.
Homegrown 21-year-old Louro could be included on the Reserve roster, so it is perhaps fair to assume RBNY has its reasons for holding an open spot on that list. The team has long prized roster "flexibility" and it has room for one more off-budget young player on the first team if it wants one.
Though the decision to drop both 'keepers from the MLS squad does appear to leave RBNY vulnerable at the position, it should be noted that players can be loaned up from USL under terms described by the current roster rules.
There also exists a mechanism for a more flexible, longer-term loan between USL and MLS teams - such as the one that put Aaron Long on RBNY's first-team roster for the back-end of last season (but didn't stop him from continuing to play for NYRB II).
As long as Diaz and Louro end up on NYRB II's roster for 2017, the Red Bulls have not lost their services for this year. And the decision to release them from the MLS squad looks simply like the club maximizing its ability to make further additions to the first team over the course of the next season.