Since MLS revamped the designated player rule in April, general managers have gone on quite the shopping spree.
When the league office decided to ramp up the maximum number of designated players allowed per team from one to three -- we've seen a plethora of household names (OK, household names in other countries, that is) come across the ocean. Mista. Geovanni. Rafa Marquez. And that Thierry Henry fellow.
But, so far, only one team has a homegrown DP on its book. Before April 1, U.S. soccer poster boy Landon Donovan had a special deal that was grandfathered into the new collective bargaining agreement. He became a DP when the rule changes went into effect, so his salary of more than $2.1 million US per year is only a $335,000 cap hit for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Unlike the other DPs, Donovan is an MLS vet, a star with the original San Jose Earthquakes before moving south to L.A.
But, more teams will need to find their own Donovans. The rule wasn't just made to lure stars from abroad. It's also there to encourage teams to promote their stars to DP status.
When MLS made the rule change, the league's statement included the line "designated player slots may be used to sign and retain existing MLS players."
While it's important for the league to use the DP cash to lure foreign stars to North America, it also needs to be used to ensure that current stars in this league stay at home.
Obviously, if a player wants to leave for England or Spain or Germany, he needs to go. It's a massive step up.
But that hasn't been the league's problem. The big issue is the loss of players to lesser European leagues that really aren't any better than MLS. Former MLS players are littered throughout the Scandinavian leagues, playing at teams like Randers and IK Start. They pay better than MLS non-DP wages, so players make the jump, even though the Scandinavian leagues don't represent a step up in terms of the product on the field. Do you believe IK Start would regularly beat Real Salt Lake? I don't.
MLS is also losing players to Mexico; U.S. World Cup star Jonathan Bornstein will leave Chivas USA to play for Tigres in January; Herculez Gomez left MLS to become a star in Mexico.
So, to stop the bleeding, more and more MLS teams are going to need to use the DP spots as carrots. Stay and we'll make you rich.
We'll likely see this as soon as next season. Alvaro Saborio has made a huge impact with Real Salt Lake, leading the team in goals, with eight. The former Saprissa star is under contract to Swiss side Sion, who loaned him to RSL.
He is maybe the biggest bargain in MLS -- his salary is $120,000 US.
In order to keep Saborio in 2011 and on, MLS would need to purchase his contract -- remember that players are paid from the central office -- likely a seven-digit transaction. And after that's done, RSL would need to make him a DP.
FC Dallas has a prime MVP candidate in midfielder David Ferreira. The Colombian is a magician, but he's not under contract to MLS. He's on loan from Brazilian side Clube Atletico Paranaense. MLS could face a similar dilemma with Ferreira.
But it's not just players on loan. MLS has plenty of legitimate stars who could be leaving soon; is it out of order to suggest that some of the league's elite -- from Colorado striker Conor Casey to Columbus' two-time defender of the year Chad Marshall to Real Salt Lake's outstanding midfield general, Javier Morales -- deserve the chance to be promoted to the DP ranks?