More big names could head to star-starved MLS

Apr 6 2010 - 6:11pm

So, Major League Soccer, which for years has prided itself on parity and its one-entity ownership model, recently announced that it is modifying its "designated player" rule, opening the door for teams to splurge on more high-priced marquee names.

Word is, some teams might go on summer shopping sprees after the World Cup to acquire the likes of Thierry Henry and Raul.

Each team now will be allowed to have a maximum of three designated players, up from two. Designated players can be paid anything the team is willing to pay, and they count $335,000 against the salary cap of $2.55 million (13 percent). Under the previous rule, the designated players took up 18 percent of the salary cap.

Teams that choose to add a third star must fork over a $250,000 fee, which will be dispersed among the teams that have fewer than three designated players.

So, the question is, how many teams will take advantage?

As it stands, only five of the 16 teams have designated players -- New York (Juan Pablo Angel), Los Angeles (David Beckham and Landon Donovan), Toronto (Julian de Guzman), Seattle (Freddie Ljungberg) and Houston (Luis Angel Landin).

Of those, only Angel, Donovan and Ljungberg have had a significant impact on the field. Beckham gave the Galaxy a huge boost in ticket sales and jersey sales when he signed with MLS a few years ago, but he has been injured much of the time, and spent considerable time on loan with AC Milan. Landin has been a bust thus far, and it's too early to tell on de Guzman.

It is important to note that no team with a designated player has won an MLS Cup, which raises the question: Is it really worth it to go after big-name players?

The answer is yes, if they are young players in their prime. There is no debating that the best talent is still playing in Europe, and if some of those stars brought their skills and flash to America, MLS would be better off. Can you imagine Wayne Rooney playing for D.C. United? Lionel Messi suiting up for the New England Revolution? Me, neither.

But we can dream, can't we?

Truth is, paying big bucks for washed up players is a mistake. If they are coming here merely to close out their careers, they probably will play like that. Better to focus on putting together a well-balanced team of lesser stars and getting behinds in the seats.

Just look at Seattle. Yes, Ljungberg, a former Arsenal star, has played a big role, as has goalkeeper Kasey Keller. But the biggest reason that club is the darling of MLS right now, drawing 30,000 a game, is that the community was craving a team, and management did a great job of creating a buzz from the moment the franchise was awarded.

MLS always has been star-starved, but it should be careful which stars it lures.

ROONEY MISSED

Sir Alex Ferguson tried to shrug off Rooney's injury, saying Manchester United would not take a dip while Rooney recovers from an ankle injury. Nice try. Rooney's absence was definitely noticeable as Man U lost 2-1 to Chelsea on Saturday, and fell behind the Blues in the English Permier League standings.

Didier Drogba scored the winner for Chelsea in the 79th minute. Meanwhile, Arsenal stayed in the title race with a 95th-minute game-clincher by Nicklas Bendnter against Wolverhampton. The Gunners were without Cesc Fabregas, who sustained a broken leg during a Champions League tie against Barcelona on Thursday.

Fabregas is expected to miss at least six weeks and is questionable for the Spanish World Cup team.

"My leg is broken, and I feel broken, too," Fabregas told reporters. "The penalty kick I scored against Barcelona could be my last act as an Arsenal player this season. But I have to cling to the hope that we can get through at the Nou Camp, win our semifinal and I might be fit for the Champions League final. That might be asking a lot but it is my dream and what I pray for."

Ferguson is confident that Rooney has learned his lesson and will not come back prematurely this time.

Rooney is expected to return for the April 17 Manchester derby.

"Although he is an enthusiastic lad he is sensible with these injuries," Ferguson said. "There is no point him rushing to get back quickly because he'll just knock himself right out of it."

Ferguson poked fun at the media hysteria that followed Rooney's injury.

"I know the hype started straight away about England but we couldn't say anything until we had the proper results of the scan so you have to be patient, but paranoia swept the country," he said. "I think that is a problem more for England than us -- we are well capable of doing without him. We don't want to do without him but we are capable of getting on with it."

Then again, maybe not.

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