While FC Cincinnati’s final USL season is on full-tilt, MLS preparations must move forward at the same time. One of the most exciting prospects for the Orange & Blue as they enter the league’s top flight is the prospect of signing top talent as a Designated Player (DP). While signing DP’s is only one aspect of building a complete MLS roster, Designated Players are undoubtedly the personnel that will draw the most headlines during FC Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS season.
Some FCC fans may already know the basics of MLS’s Designated Player policy. The rules of that policy stem from the league’s salary-restricted single-entity structure. In case you aren’t familiar, here’s quick summary of how it works.
Every team has just over $4 million per season to spend on its senior roster, which consists of player spots #1-20 on the team. The most any team is allowed to spend on a senior player is just over $500,000 (also known as the “maximum budget charge”).
“The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose total compensation and acquisition costs exceed the maximum budget charge.” [MLS]
The club then pays whatever amount of money is required to procure the player’s services, but only the maximum budget charge is applied to the team’s annual salary budget. Additionally, there are significant salary cap benefits to signing younger Designated Players.
“A Designated Player who is 21 years old to 23 years old during the League Year will carry a budget charge of $200,000, while a Designated Player age 20 or younger will carry a budget charge of $150,000.” [MLS]
While a DP signing and announcement is not imminent for FC Cincinnati, the search is most definitely underway. According to technical director Luke Sassano, FCC hopes to acquire one DP for the beginning of the 2019 season, with more to follow thereafter, either later in 2019 or the following season. [Stejskal]
Let’s take a look at the last ten designated players signed by MLS clubs and identify some trends, as well as discuss the kind of player FC Cincinnati is likely to select to fill one of these coveted positions.
Last 10 Designated Players Signed
Here are the key trends that we see in these Designated Player signings.
Unsurprisingly, aside from two central midfielders and one defender, the last ten DP’s signed have been attack-minded players. FC Cincinnati, or any MLS team, is most likely to use DP-level money on players in these positions. This is because attacking talent demands the most money on the open market. Crew SC fullback Milton Valenzuela is one of only three DP defenders across all MLS rosters. Whomever FC Cincinnati signs as their first DP, it will likely be a player who can create and score goals.
South America is Happening
Seven of the last ten DP’s signed are from South America. MLS teams are increasingly looking to countries like Argentina, Columbia, Paraguay, and Venezuela for top talent. This isn’t necessarily a new trend. One can look back to a DP like Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Columbus for evidence, or even Carlos Valderrama, who played before the DP era. However, the frequency with which Designated Players are being selected from South America is at a high. MLS teams can find the right blend of talent, price, and desire to play in MLS by sourcing there.
FCC’s current Argentine star Emmanuel Ledesma is evidence enough that quality is available in South America at many price points. Reports also indicate that Luke Sassano is currently in South America on a search for 2019 talent. [Hatch]
It’s interesting to note that while MLS currently imports a lot of talent from Central and South America, FC Cincinnati currently does not. Coaches networks and scouting networks may come into play here.
Youth is Trending, but Experience Still Rules
As a league, MLS is increasingly selecting young players as DPs. Atlanta United’s Miguel Almirón is the poster boy for this new breed of talent. A key benefit in signing this type of player is that the club then has a chance to sell the player on for profit, or at least at a residual value similar to what was paid. It must be noted that there are complex rules for MLS player sales, and the club only receives a portion of the profits.
While selecting young talent as a DP is more common now, it’s certainly not the rule. In our list of the most recent ten, Horta, Mosquera, Valenzuela, and Romero all fit that young DP bill. They also represent teams taking advantage of MLS’s Young DP policy, which comes with a lower salary budget hit. Each of those teams also has more senior Designated Players already on the books.
The other six players in the list of 10 above are 27 years of age or older. If a club is going to pay top dollar for a Designated Player, it’s reasonable that they want proof that the player can produce consistency in another league. Alan Koch built an experience-heavy USL roster this season, and one can wager that he’ll do the same for the team’s first MLS campaign. FC Cincinnati may sign a young DP at some point, but it’s likely to be after one or two more established DP’s are on the roster.
Big Names in Big Markets
Historically, when people think of Designated Players, they think of big name European players in the twilight of their career. David Beckham, of course, signed for the LA Galaxy in 2007 and was the original Designated Player. The only player in our list that fits a similar bill is Wayne Rooney. This flavor of DP is still around, but is less common than earlier in league history, and this player is usually found on teams in the biggest media markets.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently signed for the LA Galaxy and comes to mind when it comes to big names in big markets. However, LA used TAM (Targeted Allocation Money) rather than the DP mechanism to acquire Ibrahimovic. We’ll explore TAM and how FC Cincinnati might use it to build its roster in future articles.
Will FCC’s First DP Signing Follow Recent Trends?
So now we can paint a picture of what FCC’s first designated player will look like, if Sassano and Koch follow recent trends. The player will be a seasoned professional in his late 20’s, but probably not a household name. The player will also be either a forward or attacking midfielder, most likely from South America. While factors other than market trends will come into play, Sassano and FC Cincinnati are boasting an aggressive approach to their 2019 transfer business.
“We’re going to be aggressive in the marketplace. We have a very committed ownership group. I anticipate that we’ll have those higher-level type of impact players in Year 1.” –Luke Sassano [Wiebe]
Who would you like to see FC Cincinnati sign as their first DP? And does that fit within the current MLS trends for DP signings? Let us know in the comments.