MLS: Designated ChoicesBy: Juan Mesa
In 2007, the MLS decided to go to the next level by allowing clubs to sign players outside of the league’s salary cap with the creation of the Designated Player Rule. The first player to be signed was David Beckham, who—as you may remember, it was all over the news in the latest incarnation of the “Soccer Will Now Explode in ’Merica” story— left Real Madrid for the LA Galaxy.
Many known names followed him, with more or less success both on and off the field. The Designated Player Rule helped improve the playing level of the MLS, and consequently increased attendance and TV ratings. Yet the league is still seen as nothing but a golden preretirement stage by many. So what could be the best use of the rule in an era in which soccer moms are being replaced by rowdy fans? Here are the kinds of players that MLS clubs should pursue.
THE YOUNG DIAMOND. Reaching out to young stars should be a priority for the MLS. They could be from American or foreign soil. Fans love to see their hungry spirits even when their tactical game is unripe. Youngsters reinforce club identity because it feels like raising “one of ours.” If they stay for a long time, the MLS and its fans win; but when top European clubs want them, the league wins, too.
THE LATIN MAESTRO. A fast-pace, physical game cannot be the only description for the type of soccer played in the MLS. Soccer is about timing, and playmakers from Latin America dominate that aspect of the sport. In recent years, players like Javi Morales (Real Salt Lake), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers) and Federico Higuaín (Columbus Crew) have been imperious. They not only play beautifully and smart, but they also teach how to lift the head before anything happens in the grass. Every team should have one these masters.
THE RELIABLE JOURNEYMAN. Think of Irishman Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy) and Nigerian Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders)—players between 30 and 34 years of age who have played the Champions League for a powerhouse as well as helped small teams qualify to a UEFA tournament for the first time. Besides their talents, they know how to handle pressure and easily accommodate any system. If an MLS team has the chance to sign one of them, it should be a no brainer.
THE HEALTHY LEGEND. Nobody wants the MLS to be a retirement league, but clubs cannot be blamed when they have the chance to sign a soccer legend who still has legs to compete for a couple of years. Beckham and Thierry Henry were fantastic for the MLS and that should be the case with Frank Lampard (New York City FC) and Steve Gerrard (LA Galaxy) in 2015. They are about winning and competition. The only condition for their signing should be a meticulous medical exam.
THE LOCAL HERO. National team players from the US and Canada should be in the MLS even if it’s not ideal for coaches Jürgen Klinsmann (who has famously said USMNT players should work in Europe) and Benito Floro. Fans feel proud when one of their favorite stars is on the national team and the leading role in a club should be shared between locals and foreigners. Clint Dempsey’s return to the MLS in 2013 marked the beginning of a trend (at least six USMNT members have followed him since) that must be preserved.
LOGISTICS: See the MLS schedule here