No League for Old Men: The New MLS Designated Player Trend

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SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 4: Diego Rossi #9 of Los Angeles FC acknowledges the crowd after a match against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field on March 4, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. Los Angeles FC won 1-0 and Rossi scored the only goal. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Out with the old and in with the new. Major League Soccer is transforming from a retirement league to “No League for Old Men” with a trend towards signing young designated players. No, Don Garber is not going around shooting players on the wrong side of 30 in the head with a cattle gun. The clubs in the league are shifting their focus on designated players from old European stars to young South American players in their teens and early 20s.

No League for Old Men: The New MLS Designated Player Trend

The Current Standard for DPs

The longstanding trend of having big name stars past their prime to increase league awareness was commonplace since the genesis of the league. When David Beckham entered the league as a DP for LA Galaxy he put this trend into overdrive. More and more clubs were scouring the pitches of Europe trying to find big names willing to play in MLS. The popular thought of the league from around the world was that it was just a retirement league. But times they are a changing. 

Clubs have pivoted away from the old trend and instead of getting stars past their prime, they are getting younger players with the potential to be great. The popular destination to find these new DPs is South America. It gets them a young talent to develop and increases revenue for club and league.

By the Numbers

The influx of players from South America grows to 26 new players just for this season. The 2018 season will see more South American players than years prior. The average age of those players is 21.7 years old. A great immersion of youth with their own unique playing styles mixing with players from around the world makes for an interesting brand of soccer.

The Main Attraction

South American stars are nothing new in MLS. Since the beginning, some of the biggest stars, like Carlos Valderrama, have come from the soccer-crazed continent. What attracts this group is the new found level of play and the opportunity for the future.

MLS is not the end all be all league that they hope to remain in but an opportunity for their future. Competition has also increased heavily in MLS making it a better option for some players currently being overlooked by the big name clubs in Europe.

Look for players like Atlanta United FC’s Miguel Almiron to forge this pipeline for years to come. He is sure to light up MLS this year after coming off a fantastic first season with the Five Stripes. He is already being linked to such big names as Inter Milan, Arsenal, and Newcastle.

Some may protest that these players are just using MLS as a springboard into Europe. Almiron says it is more like a “bridge to Europe” than a springboard. MLS gives the young South American players to play on a global stage.

Why This Is All Good

Ultimately, it will help turn the league from a retirement pasture to a developmental arena. The trend of younger players has also influenced some older stars like Carlos Vela, who came over from Europe at 28, to lend their talents. A younger league with more developed talent benefits the style and the brand of MLS. It will also help usurp the status of Liga MX as the only viable option to play real competitive soccer in North America.

No longer is the league one last fat paycheck for the old, falling stars of Europe. Young talent from South America has revitalized those lackluster elements. MLS is now turning into an exciting league to watch to gain more fans from around the world. Everyone has to start from somewhere. Of course, the MLS is going backward from attracting retirees to young talent on the rise. It will be an interesting way to see the future of the designated player grow parallel to the growth of the MLS.

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