Is 2009 the season that an MLS team takes the plunge and hangs the Designated Player label on a U.S. player who hasn't been to Europe in some shape or form?
There aren't many candidates if that criteria is strictly applied. Kenny Cooperis a U.S. product but played a few years with Manchester United reserves and in Portugal on loan. Landon Donovan is in the midst of a third stab at making it in Germany that is, unfortunately, beginning to fizzle like the first two. Taylor Twellmanspent two frustrating years in Germany before coming into MLS at the minimum salary, which at the time was $24,000.
Claudio Reyna played a season and a half in MLS as a DP, after toiling for more than a decade in Europe. Brian McBride isn't getting DP money in Chicago, and he's only slightly older than DPsJuan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and recently upgraded Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Kasey Keller, also not a DP, will be 40 this year and though Seattle doesn't need his presence to sell tickets, he'll be a very popular and valuable representative as well as an excellent goalkeeper.
As the final year of the three-year DP experiment unfolds, will more teams consider keeping an American as worthy of the money and the slot, or will it make more economic sense to let MLS sell the player and use its portion of the transfer fee in other means? The downside to the latter scenario is a player leaving when his contract has expired, as Carlos Bocanegra and many others have done, leaving MLS and his club with nothing.
Is this the year FC Dallas stumps up some real money for Cooper, and rewards him handsomely while at the same time increasing his possible transfer fee? Will MLS end the semantic song-and-dance that has "grandfathered" Donovan the past few seasons at a DP price without the designation, or seriously consider a DP contract for Twellman or Sacha Kljestan, who went on trial with Glasgow Celtic during the winter, should lucrative offers come forth?
Donovan already makes more than double the maximum salary, yet the DP slot is still allotted to David Beckham, thus allowing Los Angeles to skirt the rules. It's the slot, which can be traded, not necessarily the salary, that is a critical factor. Donovan is alone in the grandfathered category, since Eddie Johnson went overseas on a transfer andCarlos Ruizleft the league. If Beckham leaves after the 2009 season, assuming he plays in the league this year, must the Galaxy use the DP slot on Donovan, or will the entire mechanism be tweaked somehow?
Angel's DP contract has been extended beyond the 2009 season, as has Blanco's, and Schelotto's upgrade is believed to include a second year of DP status. Could they be "grandfathered" as DPs for the 2010 season, should the MLS Board of Governors decide that the DP option, given the harsh economic realities as well as the cases of Reyna, Denilson, Beckham, Marcelo Gallardo and others, be more trouble than it's worth, pun intended?
More likely is a decision that the DP option continues as is, with any hopes of a second DP slot per team pushed well into the future. However, if Seattle turns out to have spent $2.5 million (for two seasons) on a very gimpy Freddie Ljungberg, that will further taint the DP experiment.
More to the point, will MLS teams consider more Americans as possible DPs, to either reward those already in the league or entice them back from overseas? Eddie Lewis (34) and Bobby Convey(25) came home at much different phases in their careers, but neither merited DP money, which seems to indicate that except for Donovan and Cooper and a very few playing overseas, not many Americans will be highly compensated by the American league for some time.