I hope not just the executives and officials of MLS, but the fans and journalists who follow the league, are paying close attention to the offseason goings-on regarding Designated Players as the high-priced option comes into its third season of existence.
It's getting to be a case of sink or swim, have and have not, is it not, with the nots clearly in the lead. That running soap opera, As the Beckham Bends, is only the most glaring example of how radically things can spiral out of control once ambition and self-interest take over.
Injuries and bad choices also take their toll. Marcelo Gallardo bailed on D.C. after one lackluster season, Denilson turned FC Dallas into a Farce Celebre, the Wizards have downgraded Claudio Lopezout of the DP ranks, and Claudio Reyna did what he could yet ultimately didn't measure anything close to a $1 million player, especially compared to a Red Bull teammate who epitomizes what a DP should be, but often isn't.
Red Bull New York announced Monday that forward Juan Pablo Angel has signed a multi-year extension, which implies that the DP option will be granted life when it is reviewed at the end of the season, or that if it is dropped, players like Angel will be "grandfathered" for the duration of their contracts.
Doubtful, though, given the track record of DPs is any reasonable hope that league officials would add a second DP slot per team and instead retain the current system by which slots can be traded. Those rumors flying about prior to MLS Cup 2008 that the MLS Board of Governors was leaning in that direction were fueled by nothing more than wishes and dreams channeled into the cyberworld.
Another option is for there to be two versions of DPs: one category for international players, and another for those eligible to play for the United States, and in the case of Toronto FC, Canada.
But in any case, teams and journalists and fans should be forewarned that MLS and Red Bull got it right, and perhaps got a bit lucky, with Senor Angel, whose class and professionalism on and off the field - as well as 35 goals in 53 regular-season and playoff games - set the DP bar rather high, which is where it should be for a league trying to keep afloat in a roiling economic storm.
"I'm very excited to extend my contract with the Red Bulls," Angel said in a statement. "As I have said in the past, I think that the League is very competitive and is growing every year. Red Bull has shown me that they are dedicated to improving the club and the quality of the sport year after year and I am looking forward to be a part of it as we move into a brand new stadium next season."
The controversy surrounding David Beckham and his aspirations to play for England is a unique case, yet somehow I seriously doubt that if Angel learned he'd be recalled to the Colombian national team, he'd have clandestinely arrange a loan with one of his former clubs, say Nacional Medellin, tell MLS and New York about it after the fact, and upon arriving in Colombia to join his temporary team, disdainfully criticize his current one.
Had Beckham last summer told AEG and MLS officials he'd rather join Milan on loan instead of playing for the Galaxy in lucrative offseason matches, he'd have been flatly turned down. Never did it cross his mind to work within the system rather than bypass it. Now he and his team(s) are ensnared in a very public squabble.
If he's dragged back to MLS, Becks will shrug, flash that perfect smile, say a few politically correct things, and probably play decently without any real passion or commitment. Stolidly yet effectively, Angel has not only said the right things, but done them, on and off the field, and teams scouring the world for possible DPs should look at those high-priced players who are also first-class men.