MLS 101: Designated Players
No club in Major League Soccer have won a title with a Designated Player in their side.
No, I am not suggesting our Whitecaps FC abandon their search for a DP, but Colorado Rapids again showed the rest of the league last season that it is not a prerequisite to winning an MLS Cup championship.
Los Angeles Galaxy made David Beckham the first DP in MLS history back in 2007, with the DP rule promptly nicknamed the "Beckham Rule". It had a very positive impact on the league, with sold-out gates in most cities that Beckham travelled to with the Galaxy. The idea of the DP rule was to allow MLS teams to compete for star players in the international soccer market.
As we now know from a recent article I wrote (The Making of an MLS team), for each designated player, $335,000 of a DP player's salary is charged to the salary cap and paid by the league, with the remaining salary paid by that team's owners. Each club is allowed two Designated Players, but can add a third Designated Player by paying a $250,000 luxury tax to the league. Seattle Sounders FC were able to sign Fredy Montero as a third DP after he put two thrilling back-to-back seasons together for the Emerald City outfit.
When you look at the history of the Designated Player in MLS, it has not always worked. Two examples were Brazilian import Denilson, who made close to a $1 million playing for FC Dallas in 2007, while another Brazilian in Geovanni had a less than impressive spell with Frank Yallop's San Jose Earthquakes in 2010. Teams can spend a lot of money on a DP, but if the fit is not right, it can be a bust. Just ask Seattle, who had former Arsenal star Freddy Ljungberg for a little over a year before Chicago Fire acquired him in a trade. The Fire had some success with the Swede last season, with Ljungberg moving on to Scotland with Old Firm giants Celtic.
In my opinion, MLS clubs are not just looking at how much money they can spend on a player and what kind of a name can they get for their money spent. They are also looking to find a player who can complement the squad they already have and who can make a difference on the pitch.
Whitecaps FC director of soccer operations Tommy Soehn and probably every other general manager in the league have been travelling around the globe looking for that hidden gem that can take their team to an MLS Cup title. Yet, for all clubs, such a move has to make sense and be money well spent.
DESIGNATED PLAYERS IN MLS
Branko Boskovic - D.C. United
David Beckham - Los Angeles Galaxy
Landon Donovan - Los Angeles Galaxy
Juan Pablo Angel - Los Angeles Galaxy
Thierry Henry - New York Red Bulls
Rafael Marquez - New York Red Bulls
Alvaro Saborio - Real Salt Lake
Alvaro Fernandez - Seattle Sounders FC
Fredy Montero - Seattle Sounders FC
Blaise Nkufo - Seattle Sounders FC
Omar Bravo - Sporting Kansas City
Julian de Guzman - Toronto FC