BY CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Dating back to the beginning of 2012, there have been 28 Designated Player signings by 17 of the 19 teams in the league. That statistic alone is a solid explanation of why 11 points separate first place from fifteenth as the season approaches the three-quarters point.
Where once a DP was a unique commodity across the U.S. landscape used to lure name players, it has become a vibrant part of a team’s present – and future – investment.
When “Designated Player” was introduced into the MLS rulebook back in 2007, it was coined the ‘Beckham Rule’ because, at it’s root, it was the mechanism used to circumvent the rigid cap structure of the league to acquire the star player. The connotation stuck because it seemed that the DP would only be used on players of Beckham’s ilk, much in the same way the NASL acquired name stars in the late seventies – and we all know how that ended.
Unlike the NASL who went for big name players until the bubble burst, MLS has taken a wiser route with the DP investment. The DP is no longer the aging, veteran with a marketable name that can at worst help a team sell jerseys and draw crowds. Not anymore. Today’s DP is something new. It is a futures investment on a ripening fruit. It is a player who is set to become a star – not someone who once was. He comes from a team you probably have never heard of and becomes a player who everyone knows, all while making the team better in a modest, nondescript way.
Players like Alex Lopez of the Houston Dynamo (21), Gabriel Torres (24) of the Rapids, Hernán Bernardello (27) of the Impact and Juan Luis Anangonó (24) of the Fire are a far cry from the Beckham’s, Angel’s, Reyna’s and Schelotto’s of yesteryear.
Consider that the average age of the 13 players named DPs in 2013 is four years and 363 days younger than the average age of the original six DPs in 2007. The young DP rule has been instrumental in dropping this average.
Instead of viewing this as a sign of MLS meddling in the business of its clubs, view this as a sign of the evolution of the DP.
The gold standard of the new DP mentality was set by Fredy Montero during his four years with the Sounders. A two-time Golden Boot Winner in Colombia, Montero was showing signs of promise before coming to the Sounders at age 21. With Seattle, he blossomed, becoming a two-time All-Star and scoring 60 goals in 160 appearances.
After a loan stint in Colombia where Montero led Millionarios with seven goals, he is now with Sporting Lisbon of the Portuguese First Division doing this:
If Montero’s performance convinces Sporting to buy (and by all accounts he’s doing everything right so far), then it will conclude the career arc for him. Montero came to MLS at a young age as an exciting, emerging prospect, dominated the league during his stay and then gets sold to a big European club. The Sounders bought Montero for $706,000.
Safe to say they will make a profit on that move. And that’s the intended goal of futures investments.