In the MLS, there is a squad registration rule allowing for a limited number of “Designated Players” to exist outside of the salary cap established by the league. These roster spots are reserved for high-profile players that demand a different level of salary commitment than the rest of the players in the league. This rule was adopted and put into effect in 2007 thanks the LA Galaxy’s decision to pursue international superstar David Beckham. The league decided that their current salary cap structure would never allow teams the ability to structure to their budgets in a manner that could compete with the rest of the world in pursuing and signing high profile/skill players.
With nearly 150 designated players having participated in the league since the rule came into place, there are certainly distinct types of players that teams have signed to supplement their roster. Looking at several high-profile talents brought in the last couple of years, the distinction is clear. With older legends coming in and plying their trade during the last years of their career in the MLS like Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. These types of players come to the MLS on their last legs, and the clubs that sign them do so as much for the publicity as for their talents on the field.
David Villa and Bastian Schweinsteiger are both likely to remain at New York City FC and Chicago Fire respectively for another year, but their ultimate departure thereafter will mark a distinct change in the manner that MLS clubs approach the designated player. Teams are beginning to compete with European clubs for younger players who are just entering or are currently in their prime. Players like Mauro Diaz, Carlos Gruezo, Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Sebastian Giovinco, Giovani Dos Santos, Jonathan Dos Santos, and Romain Alessandrini all mark a more competitive take on the rule by clubs in order to approach a higher level of play in the MLS.
I look forward to a time in the near future when the MLS approaches levels where the clubs within can competitively approach the transfer for even more coveted players, and those same players consider a viable league from which to either build their reputation as a skilled player or build their career on. Perhaps we are still a long way from the likes of a team in Los Angeles, Dallas, or New York capable of prizing players such as Harry Kane, Paulo Pogba, or Neymar away from their clubs in Europe, but there will come a time when the American game reaches such a level.