For the LA Galaxy, apparently, being the best is not enough.
Three titles in the past four seasons anoints it as top dog of the current generation and in Year 1 P.L. (post-Landon), it has broken new ground thanks to a recently adopted MLS player mechanism: Targeted Allocation Money. It is the first team to have four Designated Players eligible to play on its roster at the same time.
(Technically, Toronto FC has four DPs, but the loan of Gilberto to Vasco da Gama takes him off the list.)
Mexican international Giovani Dos Santos has officially joined the fold, signed as a fourth DP that is really a third, since the Galaxy used TAM to “buy down” the contract of Omar Gonzalez to an amount less than the threshold of $436,250. Thus, Robbie Keane, newcomer Steven Gerrard, and Dos Santos are the three official DPs, and Gonzalez is just some guy who earns about $1 million per year (MLSPU has still not published its annual list of salaries) but as per the salary cap counts for less than half that much.For rival fans, the song is the same and it doesn’t sound any better than it did in 2006, when the Designated Player (a.k.a. “Beckham Rule”) option was adopted for the 2007 season. By sheerest coincidence, David Beckham signed about two weeks into the New Year. With Becks on board, the Galaxy reached three MLS Cup finals (2009, 2011, 2012) and won the latter two. In 2010, the limit of Designated Players per team was increased from one to three, and now TAM enables teams to circumvent the three-DP limit by using a new form of allocation money to buy down a DP contract. Unlike regular allocation money, TAM can only be used to buy down the contract of a DP if a team is about to sign another one at equal or greater value.
The long-term ramifications of this new wrinkle will be intriguing to watch, but for the short term, the Galaxy has added two impact players – Gerrard and Dos Santos – to what is already a very good team. Gerrard played in a friendly on Saturday against Club America and against Real Salt Lake in the Open Cup on Tuesday, and with a heavy load of MLS games and international club matches lined up for the next few weeks, the Galaxy has added star power as well as attacking impetus.
“When you have players of the likes of Keane and Gerrard and Dos Santos and Gonzalez and Juninho and [Gyasi] Zardes, you’re making a name for yourself not only in this league, but around the world as well,” head coach Bruce Arena told lagalaxy.com. “Although he’s not a real big player, he can play with his back to the goal,” says Arena of Dos Santos. “His first touch is excellent, he’s got great vision. In and around the penalty area, he’s very dangerous. He can be a playmaker, he can be a goalscorer, he can go by people with and without the ball. I think he’s got the kind of qualities our team needs and hopefully you’ll see that as the season progresses. At 26 years old, he’s not yet hit his prime.”
Dos Santos has signed a deal by which the Galaxy pays him a reported $27 million over the next four and a half years ($6 million per year). It also paid a reported $7 million transfer fee to Spanish club Villarreal for his rights. Even if those numbers are somewhat inflated, it’s a staggering investment and yet another indication that for big-market teams, the time-honored policy of frugality -- find players out of contract or nearly so -- isn’t always the way to go.
The Galaxy has gone both ways: adding the captain of Liverpool as a free agent and spending huge money on the most marketable Mexican player (in MLS) since flamboyant goalkeeper Jorge Campos, who played for the Galaxy and Chicago during the league’s first three seasons (1996-98). Dos Santos is much younger than was Luis Hernandez, Francisco Palencia, Ramon Ramirez, Rafael Marquez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco when they came to MLS. Campos was 29, all the others were over 30.Had the Dos Santos deal closed earlier, would Commissioner Don Garber would have used one of his two picks on him rather than naming Gerrard and Frank Lampard? Probably not, but players of that ilk drive up TV viewership numbers and increase media coverage. The long-term effects of such DP signings on attendances fluctuate depending on the player and circumstances, but for the last month or so the league’s dalliances with Andrea Pirlo, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Dos Santos have commandeered significant attention around the world.
Recruited by Barcelona as a teenager, Dos Santos played for its "B" team for one season and after another season with the first team went to Tottenham, which loaned him out three times with limited success. Rarely did he get the chance to play with Keane, who came back to Spurs in 2009 after just six months at Liverpool and also was loaned out before signing with the Galaxy four years ago. Keane helped mentor a young player far from home -- as Keane, a Dublin native, had been when he went to Inter Milan in 2000 at 20.
“He’s a great guy,” says Keane. “He was a young kid when he came to Tottenham … but every time that he trained you could see what a player that he was, and a good kid in the dressing room. I’m very excited to have him here.We had a good relationship when he came to Tottenham. He came to Tottenham as a young kid who couldn’t’ speak English so I made sure that he was looked after. I looked after him when he came over, and we’d stayed in contact since. He’s here to win. He wants to make sure that he takes the Galaxy to the next level.”
The rest of the league can only imagine, and fear, what that next level might be if Gerrard can handle the heat and travel and quirky officiating of MLS, and when Dos Santos recovers from an suspected adductor injury that forced him to leave Mexico’s Gold Cup group finale against Trinidad & Tobago.
“We think he’s going to be a great addition,” said Arena. “He’s an exciting, attacking player and we hope everything works out well for him."