[MY VIEW] Rather than give its teams greater incentive to keep players it has developed, MLS has instead expanded its Designated Player option to lure more younger players from overseas.
The Designated Player change encourages teams to sign foreign-based young men as DPs at a reduced salary-budget charge.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, MLS executive vice president Todd Durbin outlined the process by which teams receive a credit on their salary-budget charges if they sign younger players to DP contracts. Players age 20 or younger will count $150,000 against the per-team cap of $2.675 million rather than the regular hit of $335,000, and players 21-23 will count $200,000.
The new rules go into effect next season, and do not supplant the current DP strictures that allow a maximum of three per team, with no trade of slots permitted. Domestically produced players who currently play in MLS or in another North American league are not eligible to be upgraded as a younger DP, but those with foreign teams are eligible. RSL teenager Luis Gil cannot be signed to this kind of contract, but Josh Gatt – and any other age-eligible player in a foreign league – can be.
"If you look at it, our Designated Players are anywhere from mid to late 20s to early 30s,” said Durbin during the conference call. “We’re getting good players, veteran players and players with experience but we’ve been out of the market for young, promising players in this area.
"We’re hoping with this rule change we’ll tear down this last barrier of entry and bring in quality players at every place in their career and truly have the ability to get into the market of young players to be able to bring in and grow stars of the future for Major League Soccer."
Durbin said the new rules would encourage teams to seek and sign younger talent whose track records as professionals may not yet be sufficiently established to risk a full DP salary-cap hit. It may also result in more teams using the full complement of three DPs, as if he is 23 or younger, a third DP will not trigger the $250,000 penalty normally imposed.
The case of Freddy Adu, 22, arose during the conference call. He signed with MLS last week on a free transfer from Benfica and played for the Union Saturday in a 2-2 tie with Dallas. Since his $500,000 salary hits the MLS DP threshold, he would meet the age and salary benchmarks to be classified next season as a younger DP.
The irony is that if the younger DP option had been in force when Adu left MLS after the 2007 season, he would not have been eligible to count less against the cap at a high salary. Only players with foreign clubs, including Americans and Canadians, can be signed by this mechanism.