Monday Morning Center Back: Can an MLS team succeed with two DP slots?

David Beckham 11 (AP)

(Good morning all. It has been a long time coming, but the weekly SBI series Monday Morning Center Back is and I will be looking to keep it as permanent weekly fixture in the post rotation. The MMCB will be a weekly piece on pressing topics of the day as I give my take on issues relating to MLS, the U.S. national team and international soccer. Today's subject is the designated player slot and the question is whether teams can really succeed with two designated player slots.)

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When is having two expensive stars not better than having one? When you are in Major League Soccer and you are a team trying to build a team using the league's modest salary guidelines. Only one team, the New York Red Bulls, has signed two designated players before (D.C. signed a DP and upgraded a player to a DP slot) and now that club is facing the very difficult question of whether to trade a slot in order to add some depth, or keep the second slot and try to sign a foreign star this summer.

Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has already stepped forward and stated his preference for dealing away his second DP slot (Juan Pablo Angel fills the clubs first DP slot) in order to strengthen a team in need of depth and the improvement of several positions. Such a move seems misguided to those who point to the looming opening of Red Bull Arena next summer as a reason to keep the slot, with the idea being that the club could land a high-profile player to help boost ticket sales in the new stadium.

You know what boost ticket sales just as much, if not more, than a marquee player? Winning does. The Houston Dynamo has never had a Designated Player, but does have two MLS Cup titles and did manage to draw 30,000 to its home playoff loss vs. the Red Bulls. Real Salt Lake hasn't had a designated player but the combination of the team's first playoff run and the opening of Rio Tinto Stadium have rejuvenated the fan base.

Does this mean having two Designated Players and fielding a successful team are mutually exclusive? It just might if you realize what having two DP slots mean to a team. If you have two DPs, that means that $725,000 of your $2.3 million salary cap is devoted to two players. You don't have to be a math wizard to know that is almost one third of your cap space, leaving approximately $1,575,000 of space to pay 16 players. That number increases to 18 in 2009 when senior rosters go from 18 to 20. As for the overall increase in salary cap space for 2009, team officials throughout the league are calling it a relative drop in the bucket.

Then there is the gamble you are taking with those huge chunks of cap space. When you consider that most (actually all to date) Designated Players are older players, you run a greater risk of those players being injued, which can ultimately mean a higher risk of losing a greater portion of your salary cap. Red Bulls fans and D.C. United fans know this all too well after last season. Now while not all DPs get hurt, if you have two of them it significantly increases your exposure to a costly injury or two.

So what does it all mean to MLS? Is this really a league-wide issue considering several teams don't even use one DP slot, let alone two? It is a league-wide issue because teams are being faced with the dilemma of having to choose between star power and roster depth. That applies to those teams considering using one DP slot for the first time, as well as to teams with two DP slots like D.C. United and the Red Bulls, which just made an improbable MLS Cup run but which will very likely struggle in 2009 if significant upgrades aren't made to their roster.

It is a shame that MLS teams have to make that choice, when even a modest salary cap increase could help make the decision easier.

What do you think about the DP dilemma? Do you think it's virtually impossible for a team to succeed with two designated player slots, or do you think the right team could pull it off? If you were the Red Bulls, would you trade your second DP slot for roster upgrades, or would you keep it with the hoping of adding another star this spring (or potentially summer)?

Share your thoughts below.

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39 Responses to Monday Morning Center Back: Can an MLS team succeed with two DP slots?

  1. Bob says:

    LA should try and get a third DP slot. That is what they are missing.

  2. Joe Quake says:

    The Galaxy owner is spot on with his comment that teams should not be punished for having DPs. Maybe they should only count $200K against the cap or something like that. I think most fans would rather see DPs but understand the need for a salary cap, even if they don’t agree with it. Lowering how much $ a DP will count against the cap will only make the league better. I also think every team should be allowed 2-3 DPs, but that’s not going to happen for a while.

  3. eric says:

    What a mess! I don’t think this is the intention MLS had with the DP slots, and I think part of the reason that “DP’s don’t succeed” in this league is it unbalances teams.

    I still think success can be had using both as is, but you have to have some talent at the $30 – $50k salary slots, and then nail every single roster decision, especially in the $100 – $200k range.

    As an intermediate step, I would like to see the league give everyone 2 DP slots, and have NONE of that salary count against the cap. That way, you can build a good MLS team and add star power on top of it.

  4. brett says:

    Joe Quake- allowing teams to have 2-3 DP’s would hurt certain teams….. NY, CHI and LA are quality markets at attracting big name players, but certain locations would suffer from it… nothing against these teams, but trying to attract a big name to CLB or KC or even RSL seems harder…. however, as CLB and RSL have shown, you dont necessarily need to get the big names… sometimes a quality S.American playmaker is all you need….

    i was debating this topic, and a guy made a quality arguement…. remove the DP from salary cap status…. this would open up 400k that is already being dropped by the league for more and quality talent…. have the owners/team pick up the remaining 400k of the DP’s salary…. this way the league doesnt increase the salary cap, but it also improves the amount and quality of the talent included in the rosters…

  5. Allegre says:

    I don’t know about everyone, but I enjoy seeing the improved futball that MLS has begun to offer in the last couple of years. I believe that is due to the improvement in both the quality of player and in the increased attendance across the league for games.

    The MLS needs to allow it’s cap to move along with the quality of players it attracts and with the increased attendance.

    As for RBNY, the new Red Bull Arena will be a huge draw in the first couple of years. The trick will be commanding the talent that will keep it full. I accept that we do not have the talent of say the Premier League and may not for a long time, but I expect at a minimum that we will see continued improvement each year. Can or has MLS explained how they plan to do this as it stands now? I understand not every european star who comes over will sell as many seats and jerseys as Beckham, but there are many who would make the jump at a far less expensive price.

  6. brett says:

    and lets also point out that not EVERY owner is willing to drop millions on a single player in hope that the funds are recovered simply on attendances and shirt sales…. the fact they are willing to pay the overhead of having a team while making nothing in return (for most teams) is asking alot as is….

    HOU and NER are two prime examples that team chemistry and a roster of average to above average players can accomplish as much if not more then a team with “star studded” power….

  7. Miguel says:

    Ives,

    In what I read the last few weeks regarding the senior roster spots, they are increasing from 18 to 20, not 22. Please confirm this. Also, the total roster would be 24. So if there are 20 senior spots, then there would be 4 developmental spots. Also, does this mean that if a team chooses to have 18 senior players, that team can then have 6 developmental players? Last, please confirm that the salaries of developmental players do not count against the cap.

  8. wz187 - KC says:

    There have always been unofficial DPs who had their salaries count agianst the cap, such as LD, Ruiz, EJ. It is not the DP label you have to look at when analyzing whether a DP slot should be filled, but any player who has taken 350,000 more in cap space.

    I like the fact that the DP slot isn’t a no brainer. It makes the league more interesting. Besides, we saw a .2 million increase in cap space last year. If we were to see the same increase this year, it would be the same as making the DP space not count against the cap.

  9. Alfred says:

    Ok I think each team should be granted another DP slot, but each team shouldn’t have more than three. Still if this were to happen I think that slot should count 150,000 of the salary cap ( 150 seems to be the average on pay. ) But MLS should do all of us a favor and raise up the salary cap so MLS teams wouldn’t have a problem paying player especially if those player are coming from central/south america to help the team out.

  10. Tim says:

    Ives, you mentioned in the first paragraph that NY is the only team to have signed two DP’s. As I recall, Emilio was DC’s second midway through this past season.

    Also, we can fuss about the DP cap hit, but I believe it is a short lived problem much like the large percentage of teams making the play-offs. Each year as the cap rises (albeit slowly) the DP takes a proportionately smaller cap hit. So as it is a problem now, in a couple of years it really won’t be that big of a deal.

  11. kidsqueya says:

    I think a LOT of teams are banking on a free ride w/ the opposition having a DP. Blanco and Beckham bring in fans and raise the profile of the league.

    Yet… cheap-o owners are absolutely fine w/ forcing fans to buy 4 or 5 games worth of tix just to see ONE Galaxy game.

    Meanwhile, teams w/ DPs are essentially strapped b/c they’ve spent a large % of their cap just so NE, Houston, KC and RSL can profit off of 5 or so games.

    Oh. And then they make extra money from the play-off games as well.

    Dude. Don’t friggin’ bogart the blunt if you’re not going to contribute to the pot. Pun intended.

  12. Kyle says:

    Ives,

    DC also had 2 DPs (Emilio had has contract upgraded this year).

  13. Ives says:

    Kyle and Tim, DC did not sign two DPs, they signed one and upgraded an existing player to a DP slot for the season (Emilio).

    And Tim, exactly how much do you think the cap has gone up in the past three years?

  14. xrnflyer says:

    With the economy the way it is going who knows if any team will be able to pay their players? Why not consider having a cap for DPs at say $750K, regular player pool at $2M but a combined maximum of $2.5M? This would encourage all teams to have a DP (perhaps an American)but still require teams to make wise choices about one or two DPs.

  15. victor says:

    Hadn’t thought of it before, but what kidsqueya says is true, teams w/o DPs benefit from the teams w/quality DPs (Angel, Beckham, Blanco) putting out lots of cash. If this is what some owners are thinking, it’s truly shrewd.

  16. Bill says:

    I think what DC did by upgrading a proven player is the best way to justify the cost of DP (especially 2nd DP – why that wasn’t Gomez still confuses me). Houston, for example would embrace DeRo as that 2nd dp – but bring in a ‘name player’ and the team-chemistry gets a jolt (justifiable jealousy perhaps?)

    That being said, NY is a market that would benefit from another name-player for at least two reasons: no current player on redbulls justifies the bump in pay/status (if you can get a DeRo or Donovan sure – DP them – they are proven talent) and I am of the opinion that the NY market is very savy and 22 no-names winning ugly isn’t going to bring in the fans – they want the names they’ve seen on tv (such as Del Pierro or Tierry Henry or Hernon Crespo etc).

  17. kpugs says:

    Frankly, I think this question will be up in the air for a while. RBNY were the hottest team in the league (for a time) with two DPs. Not only that, but since Claudio retired they are STILL a team handicapped by a second DP slot. And they went to MLS cup. So the answer seems to be yes, simply based on facts. However I understand that it is not that simple.

    L.A. is a bad team to look at as well. They only have “one” DP, even though they really had three for a while. When the league aids you in every way possible to win a championship, well, you just can’t count that team in any analysis ever.

    So the easy answer is yes, but I don’t think we will ever really know for sure because teams can’t have 2 DP’s for more than three seasons anyway, and in a league with this much parity it’s probably just a moot point.

    I still can’t get over what it must be like to be a Galaxy fan, having the league try to give you a championship. And if that wouldn’t shame me away from the league, having that happen AND my team be amongst the worse ever would kill me.

  18. fubar says:

    The problem is much more complicated than this specific issue suggests.

    No one is taking into consideration of thinking more globally. What happens if Barca get into the league and they want to put some of their developmental squad into the league for seasoning and maturation?

    How do you measure their salaries against such a cap? Who becomes a DP?

    What would the league look like if the Emirates or Abu Dhabi came in with Billions and wanted to explode the league?

    How about Russian Petro-Dollars?

    What if Bayern, Chelski, MANU, Real Madrid, Inter, AC, Boca, Bayer, Ajax, et al want to get in on the act?

    I just can’t even wrap my arms around all of this because it is such a huge and complicated issue.

    The U.S. is the largest consumer market in the world and it is largely untapped when it comes to futbol. With all of those countries Ex-Pats living here, shirt sales, etc. could go through the roof.

    The worlds is so different then it was in the NASL days. The internet and instant communications has made the game just more easily accessible.

    Is the US ready for all of this? who knows…

  19. fcmuenchweiler says:

    The solution is simple: Drop the DP rule altogether and raise the cap 25%. This saves teams from their own stupidity regarding how to manage DP risk. It also improves our ability to keep US players from heading off to the marginal Scandinavian leagues for a better payday. It won’t stop the inevitable Big 5 transfers, but it’ll stop our bleeding of too many good players. Squad synchronicity and cohesiveness will also be strengthened; thus, increasing teams’ competitiveness. Also, higher average salaries should entice more younger players to head to MLS, while also improving the league’s ability to attract better Latin, Caribbean, and African talent.

    What to do about current DPs? Grandfather them in with the $400K rule against the cap intact.

  20. biological says:

    columbus’ use of it’s dp slot was stellar. it’s too bad (for mls/fans/cooper) that dallas didn’t use theirs in the same way. it would be great to see more teams use theirs in schelotto fashion. why not spend the cash on those who’ve earned it. As a by-product, players not making dp salary would have something to aspire to for a hefty paycheck rather than europe.

  21. OnlyOneKeano says:

    As a RBNY season ticket holder, I would like to see them use the 2nd DP slot. We saw what happened when Osorio was given the freedom to make midseason signings and it was a complete failure. Why should he be trusted to bring in 2 or 3 new players in a similar type of situation?

    $1.475M divided by 22 players comes out to an avg of about $67K per player. Given that last season RBNY had 11 first team players making between $12-18K, I think they would still have room to give other players a decent enough salary to field a good team. Their problem is not DP’s taking up cap space, it’s guys like Pietravallo who are eating up almost $200k.

    I think having another experienced, top-level player on the field to complement Angel would do wonders for both the team and Angel’s motivation. Not to mention, it brings excitement and good press to a big-market team that sorely needs it. I still think despite his age that Figo would fit in perfectly for the next season or two, especially given the large Portuguese population in the vicinity of Red Bull Arena, but as long as they used the DP slot wisely I would not be against it.

  22. EDB says:

    i think there should be 1dp and 1other part exepmtion for a MLS proven player..

  23. JM says:

    They should redefine the DP in the same vein as the franchise tag.

    Every team gets to DP one person on the roster, and that person’s salary does not count against the cap.

    If a team like Dallas has everyone at $300k and below, they still get to tag one player as a DP for the season, and not have the money count against the cap.

  24. northzax says:

    Brett: every league in the world has that problem, maybe it’s more exacerbated in the US given the size, but the NFL, NBA and MLB seem to manage, and they are dealing with younger stars. Think about it: you are young, rich and talented: you really moving to Oklahoma City over Miami, LA, NY or whatever? St. Louis? Columbus? Cleveland? It seems to work.

  25. Scott says:

    The DP rule is a good idea, but it’s definitely needs tweaking – the owner’s who use the DP slot are not getting their money’s worth. I think the DP cap hit needs to be reduced, maybe eliminated. I’m all for parity, but a team should see some benefit from spending all the extra money on a DP. The only team that has been better with a DP is Chicago. Angel is a good DP, and NY had a good playoff run, but they’ve hardly been dominant considering they were paying for 2 DPs. The DP rule should be used to bring star power to MLS, otherwise it makes no sense at all; if they want to improve the play, they should just raise the cap. It’s hard to attract star players who can still contribute on the field, but I’m sure it’s going to be made harder if the player knows he is going to be surrounded by cheap players so his team can afford to pay him. DPs are a risk for sure, but if most the teams are not doing better when they sign one, it reflects poorly on the league, and really diminishes their value…

  26. TCompton says:

    I don’t think the DP option has been around long enough to say that a team with two DPs will not succeed, however, I believe that a team with two DPs are putting a greater percentage of their chances for success in the hands of luck. Had Claudio Reyna or Marcello Gallardo not been injured for such long periods, perhaps the Red Bulls’ 07 and United’s 08 seasons would have been successful.

    But I do believe that a team that ties up so much of their salary cap with one or two players is taking on greater risk. That risk should be offset by clubs identifying players without histories of being injured.

    I’d like to say United learned their lesson, but Gallardo is still on the roster.

    The Red Bulls were able to convince Reyna to retired, and Osorio has stated his position on the subject.

    Arena hasn’t said much about it, and has generally kept his mouth shut on having Donovan and Beckham on the roster together.

  27. milo says:

    cap needs to be 3.3 mil and two DPs per team and ability to trade for a third!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. brett says:

    northzax – if they inc. the number of DP’s then it has to reflect into the Cap space… personally i stick to the idea of dropping the cap space for DPs…. that will give each team a quality player and an additional 400k to spread througout the team….

    in other leagues, if you are young and rich of talent, then they’ll go where ever the draft takes them…. as for the DP, its different b/c we are focusing primarily on foreign quality talent, and the options of going to either a large city or a small city could make or break the deal…. could you imagine if beckham went to CLB or KC?? the deal would never happen….

  29. j1m says:

    Raise the salary cap. Plain and simple. Helps out both teams with and without DPs.

  30. Seriously? says:

    I too like the idea of having the DP slot not counted against the cap, or at least have it count at a much lower level. I’m not sure how many players could be brought in that would significantly increase attendance just by showing their face, but just increasing the level of play does help the league. I don’t like how an owner who’s willing to bring in a truly top player would have to sacrifice some of the better players on the team to do so. So I liked LA’s proposal of not counting DP players on the cap, or perhaps they could not count the first one, but count the second player, since being able to bring in 2 truly elite players without any cap hit might be giving the wealthier teams too much of an advantage.

  31. Supsam says:

    With all those hefty expansion fees of $40 million dollars PER TEAM ADDED, how can MLS HQ not have enough money to raise the cap to AT LEAST $5 million (which is like $2.7 increase per team from 08 season)and last time i checked, 2.7 increase x 14 clubs from 08 season is around $38 million in all. Im sure the (i believe) $60 million MLS recieved from combined Seattle and Philly in total explansion fees is way more than enough to justify the major increase in salary cap with an additional $22 million to cover the costs of running the league.

  32. Supsam says:

    and thats not including what MLS will recieve from the two teams that will be added in 2011 which amounts to expansion fees of $80 MILLION!!!! God damn thats alot of money that can increase the MLS to a whole new level if used wisely

  33. Zach says:

    I think the league is doing its best. Pretty good job trying to bring in expensive talent in a league that doesn’t grow money or have lots of money. I hope they don’t go bankrupt.

  34. bryan says:

    i still think the cap should be raised a little bit. i think having two DPs is a great idea for any team. obviously, as stated in the article, that leaves nothing for the rest of the team. so why not allow the teams to have two DP slots that don’t count against the cap at all? that way the team is left with their $2.3M to build the team around the DPs. or, to do the same math in a different way, why not add on $725,000 to the salary cap (bringing it to $3,025,000)? Neither of these moves would bankrupt the MLS.

  35. Fumar says:

    Ives – Any idea what the cap is in 2009? Is this not a publically know number? If not how is it that you’re stating that the cap is $2.3 MM this year? And finally, what is the penalty for going over the cap?

  36. SonicDeathMonkey says:

    Keano, not sure where you got your info, but senior contracts aren’t between 12-18K….those are developmental contracts, which means there is no way the RedBulls had 11 first team players making that little money.

  37. eric says:

    What is happening to all that expansion franchise money that is coming in?

  38. papa bear says:

    @Posted by: Supsam | December 08, 2008 at 02:06 PM

    MLS is still paying off operating losses from the first 9 years or so.

    Most estimates have them close to the black by 2010/2011 with all the new TV money (they sold the MLS Cup rights to something like 160 countries this year which is a decent hunk of change–though don’t be totally because there are some countries like the West Indies that ‘command’ the princely sum of $10k for media rights so.. I believe they sold Germany though which is good because it’s the biggest market in Europe and is usually good for a solid $2-10 million in rights fees)

    All that being said, you don’t just start dumping another $40 million dollars onto the debt pool just yet.

    To me the best solution is give every team 2 DP’s (non-tradeable) and have them not count against the cap at all. Make their salary the sole responsibility of the club. Second, they should also allow cap-free signing bonuses like the NFL does that come from the owner’s pockets to the ‘regular’ players.

    They need to do one or the other to keep young talent in MLS. Kids going to Denmark or Norway is a joke.

  39. K. Prather says:

    I realize the economy is in trouble but if MLS doesn’t raise it’s salary cap MLS will begin to stagnate more and more and begin to really become a place for inexperienced young americans and young foreigners as well as a retirement home for older Euro stars. As a fan I don’t want this, I want to watch entertaining soccer year around, I dont’ care about names, just the quality on the field. Without a boost in the cap space I don’t see the quality increasing, and this is going to lead to a decreasing in interest in the league. MLS your wasting a good opportunity with this DP situation raise the cap and put some quality around your star players.