As the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is still being hammered out leaving the 2020 MLS season in question, The Athletic is reporting that MLS is looking to make a fairly big change to how the Designated Player (DP) slots work.
Sam Stejskal of The Athletic explains how the DP system currently works:
“Under the current setup, teams are allowed to sign a maximum of three DPs. Regardless of how much teams spend on acquisition costs and salaries for those players, DPs hit the salary budget at a set figure that varies depending on the player’s age. In 2019, DPs age 20 or under hit the budget at $150,000, those between 21-23 years of age hit at $200,000, and those 23 years old and above carry a $530,000 hit. In addition, teams that have three DPs over age 23 have to pay the league $150,000.”
In an effort to get teams to sign younger DPs that they can sell on for huge fees (think: Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Brian Rodriguez, Diego Rossi, etc.) the league is looking into restricting the third DP spot to a U-23 player. If teams choose to not sign a U-23 DP, then the third DP could only make $1 million plus the max budget charge. A total of $1,530,000 in 2019.
If instead the third DP was under 23, then there would be no cap on spending (see all those names above). Overall, the rule probably wouldn’t impact too many teams. The vast majority of the teams either have a young DP that fits that criteria like Atlanta United or LAFC currently do or one of their three DPs make under $1.53 million (2019). Many teams don’t even have three DPs.
However, a team like Toronto FC, who up until recently had three DPs making over that charge (Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco in 2016-18 or sub in Alejandro Pozuelo in 2019), would be impacted. Under the new rules, it would be impossible to have fielded those teams (though Bradley is a TAM player in 2020).
A quick look at all the other 2019 MLS teams shows only the LA Galaxy would have been impacted based on salary alone (of course, salaries don’t show transfer fees, so it’s possible with some big fees other teams could be impacted like the Portland Timbers with Brian Fernandez last year).
How Would Sporting KC be Impacted?
As the roster is constructed today, they wouldn’t be. It’s likely the three DPs on the roster are new striker signing Alan Pulido, midfielder Felipe Gutierrez and winger Johnny Russell. However, Russell’s last reported wage was $1,449,999.96 which is under the proposed new maximum. That said, the if the new rule were to go into effect the team would have to buy a U-23 DP or limit themselves to someone right around Russell’s salary.
According to The Athletic, if the rule were to go into effect, it wouldn’t be until 2021. Also, it remains unclear if teams with three DPs over the threshold would be grandfathered in or be forced to comply with the changes immediately as they go into effect.
Sporting KC were just today linked to a 22-year-old Argentinian. If he were to have a significant salary or transfer fee, he’d fit under the new rules.
Personally, I’m against this. As of right now, it would appear to impact very few teams: Toronto FC, LA Galaxy and any team with two DPs over the $1.53 million threshold looking to add a third (think Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, etc.).
According to the story from Stejskal, the league is looking to get more parity with this rule and also to encourage teams to sell their young players for large fees. However, it clearly won’t provide parity as Atlanta and Los Angeles Football Club already follow these rules and they are two of the best teams in the league.
For me, if a team wants to spend their money with one strategy or another, that’s their prerogative. The way Atlanta and LAFC are operating seems smarter as they are quite good and they are likely to make big profits selling their young players. But if teams like Toronto and the Galaxy want to try to win in a different way, that’s their call. It’s clearly working for Toronto and not working great for the Galaxy.
MLS already has complicated roster rules and this would just make it more confusing. As I’ve argued before, things should be simplified, not over-complicated.