MLS Designated Player Rule: How do the MLS DP work?
The DP rule was introduced in 2007 to allow MLS teams to sign stars without breaking the league's salary cap. Learn how the rule works and its benefits to players and clubs.
Yes, Messi to MLS mania is upon us. David Beckham claimed that nearly 3.5 billion people tuned in to watch Argentine star Leo Messi’s unveiling with Inter Miami on Sunday.
Many soccer fans initially wondered how a salary for Lionel Messi, who could instantly become the top MLS player of all time, might possibly fit under Inter Miami’s MLS-mandated salary cap. The Argentinian’s contract is massive and includes side deals with Apple and Adidas. Messi will enter the league as an MLS Designated Player, but even that didn’t prevent Inter Miami from signing other star players such as Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.
How and why was this even possible? Continue reading here on Betway Insider to find out.
What is the Designated Player in MLS rule?
The MLS Designated Player rule allows MLS teams the option of signing up to three players who remain outside of the general structure of the team’s salary cap.
How does the MLS Designated Player Rule work?
A star such as forward Leo Messi could potentially earn as much money as the combined total of all other players on an MLS team’s roster. Under a traditional salary cap, that would prevent a club from fielding a complete team. The MLS Designated Player rule allows Major League Soccer teams to bid for the services of star players without compromising their overall roster depth.
The MLS DP rule is also known as the “Beckham Rule.” That is because superstar British winger David Beckham would never have been able to fit under a league-mandated salary cap when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2007. Beckham alone carried an annual salary of $6.5 million, and when he entered MLS, the Galaxy’s salary cap was just $2.1 million for the entire team. Rather than lose the opportunity to add a player of Beckham’s stature, the league created the DP rule so teams would have the flexibility to recruit exceptional players.
Does the MLS have a salary cap?
Yes, the MLS has a salary cap.
What is the current MLS salary cap?
The 2023 MLS salary cap is set at $5.21 million for players in roster spots 1-20 on each team’s “senior roster.” The remainder of the team is made up of a mix of senior minimum-salary ($85,000) players, reserve minimum players, and homegrown players.
How many DP slots do MLS teams have?
Teams in MLS can have a maximum of three Designated Players. Regardless of what they are actually paid, all MLS Designated Players count for just $612,500 against the salary cap if they are 24 or older, $200,000 if they are 21 to 23, and $150,000 if they are 20 or younger (the latter two categories are called “young Designated Players”).
Past MLS Designated Players
Designated Players are often some of the highest-paid MLS players, with David Beckham’s $6.5 million salary in 2007 being a famous example. European players in MLS are often some of the highest-paid, especially those with extensive soccer resumes.
For the 2019 season, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was paid $7.2 million, making him one of the most expensive DPs of all time. Other famous MLS players who were Designated Players include American midfielder Landon Donovan, Irish striker Robbie Keane, English midfielder Steven Gerrard, and Mexican midfielder Giovani dos Santos. It’s worth noting that each of these aforementioned stars was signed by the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Current MLS Designated Players
The highest-paid MLS Designated Player at the start of the 2023 season was Chicago Fire midfielder/winger Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international star takes home $8.2 million per season.
The highest-paid MLS Designated Player of all time is current Toronto FC winger Lorenzo Insigne, who raked in $14 million for the 2022 season. He took a pay cut down to $7.5 million for 2023.
The 2023 MLS goals leader, Nashville SC forward Hany Mukhtar, is also a Designated Player, as is England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil, who leads the league in assists.
Will Messi be an MLS Designated Player?
Leonel Messi will carry an annual salary of somewhere between $50 million and $60 million, which is roughly nine times the MLS salary cap.
However, Messi will be listed as an Inter Miami Designated Player and will therefore only count for $612,500 against the team’s cap.
In order to fit in his former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, Inter Miami let one of its 2023 Designated Players, midfielder Rodolfo Pizzaro, leave for Greece on a free transfer. The team is also looking to re-allocate midfielder (and captain) Gregore’s Designated Player salary as “General Allocation Money.”
Future of the MLS Designated Player Rule
Esteemed soccer writer Arch Bell published an article on ESPN on July 15 titled, “Messi should be turning point for draconian MLS roster rules,”
While the MLS would love to have Messi invite as many of his ex-Barcelona friends as possible (potentially even MSN member Luis Suarez), the salary-cap gymnastics might border on untenable.
Bell notes: “There is a logical disconnect when ownership groups new to MLS are writing $500 million checks to operate a new expansion franchise, yet are then subsequently limited to a salary cap that's just 6.2 percent of what NHL (the next-most financially limited major men's league in the U.S.) teams are allowed to spend annually.”
MLS history reveals that paying huge sums for Designated Players can have a positive impact on both the brand image of a club and its success on the field. If the DP rule is abandoned and the MLS turns to an MLB “luxury tax” model, will spending rapidly get out of control? Will rich teams have all the best and most expensive players?
These are important questions to answer, and they don’t even consider the United Soccer Leagues’s upcoming vote on potentially adopting relegation and promotion.
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