Major League Soccer is adjusting its designated player rules in the hopes of bringing in more young international talent, an area in which the league has struggled to gain a foothold.
MLS executive vice-president Todd Durbin announced Tuesday that the league was lowering the charge against the salary cap for young designated players after hearing from teams about their reluctance to sign young international players at such a high price with no firm idea of whether the player will develop into a star.
“We had two decisions to make. Do we continue to operate how we have historically, or do we make changes to these rules and tear down the last barrier to entry?” Durbin said on a conference call.
MLS teams are currently allowed to have three designated players on their rosters — players whose salaries don’t fully count against the salary cap. But the decision by MLS to adjust the charge for younger players gives teams the latitude to take chances on younger international players where they may have been hesitant in the past.
International designated players age 20 or younger will be charged just US$150,000 against the team’s salary cap. Players aged 21 to 23 will count $200,000 against the salary cap. Both of those numbers are down from the $335,000 charge for all other designated players.
“Our designated players are anywhere from their mid to late 20s to their mid-30s. We’re getting players that are good players, veteran players, but we’ve been out of the market for the most part in young, promising players,” Durbin said. “If we want to continue our growth and continue the improvement of our on-field product, this is an area we have to be in.”
The rule will take effect for the 2012 season, but there are no plans right now to add any designated player slots. Durbin said the markets most likely to be tapped by the new rule were South America, Central America and Mexico.
The league will also increase its own scouting department to supplement what each individual team already does. Durbin said that would come in the form of more overseas consultants and a technological component at the league headquarters.
“The idea is not to become the scouting network for the teams but to provide a resource for the teams to do their jobs as effectively as they need to,” Durbin said.
Durbin also announced that U.S. national team midfielder Eddie Johnson is returning to MLS and will go through allocation and be assigned to a team. Johnson is the third national team player to sign with MLS this season, joining Freddy Adu, who signed with Philadelphia last week, and New England’s Benny Feilhaber. Johnson’s contract with Fulham of the English Premier League expired at the end of last season.