Ian Palmer

While Major League Soccer (MLS) seems to be slowly growing in popularity and has attracted thousands of new fans over the years, it hasn’t really been able to attract many of the world’s top players. This is going to be necessary though if the league hopes to keep growing and franchise owners are to turn a profit. Right now, only Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders are making any money.

The most recognisable face and player in the league is undoubtedly David Beckham of Los Angeles Galaxy, but it doesn’t help matters that he’s injured as often as he’s healthy. What MLS has done in North America is open its fans’ eyes to soccer in the rest of the world. There are millions of North Americans who now glue their eyes to their television sets on a weekly basis to watch matches from England, Spain, and Italy.

This means the average fan now knows who players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Didier Drogba are. They see the world’s best in action and realise MLS isn’t a popular destination for most of them. However, the league is hoping to change that by altering its current designated player rule. In theory, this will provide more incentives for MLS clubs to try and lure top-class talent to North American shores.

The new rule states that each club can now field up to three designated players instead of two. This enables a team to pay a designated player as much as they like and it will only count as $335,000 against the team’s $2.55M salary cap, which is 13 per cent. Under the previous rule, a designated player’s salary was rated at $415,000 against a $2.315M-per-team cap, which worked out to about 18 per cent of the club’s salary budget.

The rule change was put into place to try and motivate team owners into seeking the help of some more of the world’s top stars, such as Thierry Henry of Barcelona, who’s rumoured to be signing up with New York Red Bulls at the end of the current Spanish season. However, Henry is still under contract for another season with Barcelona and it is possible he may stay in La Liga.

At the moment, the 16-team league has only six designated players in it, but Beckham is going to miss most of the season due to a torn Achilles heel. The league also lost Chicago Fire’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco during the off season as he has gone home to play in Mexico.

While the new rule does offer a better scenario for MLS owners to hunt down some big names, it’s hard to imagine them paying transfer fees to foreign clubs, so it’s likely the league will only be able to snag players on free transfers and those who are out of contract. This will limit the top players who are available and it’s likely that most of them will be in the twilight of their careers. So if New York Red Bulls want Henry that badly, it appears Barcelona may ask for a transfer fee because of his contract situation.

However, the financial situation of most franchises will probably restrict much movement until more clubs start to turn a profit. There have only been 13 designated players in MLS history and while it would be nice to see this number rise, it’s highly unlikely there will be a dramatic increase.

The current designated MLS players are: Juan Pablo Angel of New York, David Beckham of Los Angeles, Julian de Guzman of Toronto, Landon Donovan of Los Angeles, Luis Angel Landín of Houston, and Freddie Ljungberg of Seattle.

MLS still has some way to to up its star names, but this rule change is at least a start.estion.


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