As expected, MLS announced that it has changed its designated player rule, providing more incentives (in theory) for teams to bring increased star power into the budget-conscious soccer league. But what we
Each MLS team will now be able to have up to three (instead of two) designated player exceptions, stars who can be paid however much a team is willing to give them without counting more than $335,000 each against the $2.55-million-per-team salary cap. What's more, each DP will now take up around 13 percent of a team's salary budget, as opposed to around 18 percent previously (when a DP counted $415,000 against a $2.315-million-per-team cap).
The idea is that the new rule will spur more MLS owners into action when it comes to signing big-name talent. Under the old rule, MLS had only four DPs on its 16 teams when the 2010 season began last week. In fact, the league's star power had actually gone down from last season. MLS's two best-known and highest-paid players in 2009--Beckham and Chicago's
The big questions for me with today's news are simple: Will MLS owners go and sign more stars now that they have bigger incentives to do so? (Perhaps, but in this economy the league maintains that only two teams, Seattle and Toronto, are profitable.) And will any MLS teams ever start paying transfer fees to become real players on the international transfer market?
So far, I haven't found a single one of MLS's 13 DPs whose acquisition has involved a transfer fee. Not Beckham (who came on an unusual free transfer), not Blanco, not New York's
The point is that not many elite international soccer stars play out the length of their contracts and become free agents. That doesn't mean it's impossible for MLS to find useful additions on free transfers -- Angel, Blanco, Seattle's
That's the biggest question I have about New York potentially signing Henry, whose contract with Barcelona doesn't run out until the end of the 2010-11 season. If Henry is to join the Red Bulls this summer, they would become the first MLS team to pay some sort of transfer fee for a designated player. Will they? Who knows?
What we do know is that MLS teams have to be smart in how they pick their Designated Player targets. Here's a quick rundown of the 13 DPs in league history: