The Montreal Impact are closing in on securing the signing of 21-year-old Uruguayan forward Santiago Gonzalez. This would normally not be news worth of our attention outside of keeping tabs on our closest rivals but this case is a bit different since it makes use of one of MLS's lesser known mechanisms for acquiring a players.
According to a report on MLSsoccer.com the player, who will demand a decent sized transfer fee, will not be classified as a Designated Player since he is being signed as a "special discovery signing". It is not the first time that this mechanism has been used but it is the first time that we have gotten further details on how it works. Previous examples of players acquired through this means include Olmes Garcia (at least according to Nick de Santis) and Maximiliano Urruti.
We know that this method of acquiring players has been in place for some time then and was not just recently created. Garcia was signed by Real Salt Lake last February and Urruti was signed by Toronto FC later in the summer after that lengthy pursuit that fans will not soon forget. What else do we know about the mechanism though? The MLSsoccer.com report offered a little more info:
"It means that the league acquires a young player and that the contract is amortized [over several seasons] so the player's cap hit reaches between $125,000 and $150,000, give or take," De Santis told reporters. "That helps the team a lot. Those are young players with experience."
Essentially, the mechanism is in place to allow teams to sign young players with professional experience that they may not otherwise be able to acquire. By signing them this way the club is able to avoid using a designated player slot on them which they would have had to do under normal circumstances due to the transfer fees involved. That is how a player like Maxi Urruti could come to the league and not be a DP while someone like Matias Laba is one since he was not signed through this mechanism.
In a series of tweets, all subsequently deleted, Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson shed further light on what a "special discovery signing" entails. His primary illustration was Urruti who he confirmed continues to not count as a designated player due to the fact that the league was actually the ones who purchased the player from Newells Old Boys. That means that Toronto and now Portland were essentially being loaned the players by the league with the club having the option to match what the league paid for the player should they wish to acquire the players rights. A club would have to do this if for example they wanted to sell the player at some point down the road and get a share of the profits rather than the entire sum going to MLS.
Now we know that Urruti was signed through this mechanism but it is important to note that Laba was not. He was purchased outright by Toronto FC from Argentinos Juniors and the club, not the league, own his rights. His contract is still held by MLS like it is for all players but his cap hit includes the transfer fee which is what makes him count as a young designated player.
Even with the existence of special discovery signings (or whatever MLS actually calls them) it in no way will help Toronto FC keep Laba and remove his designated player tag. Toronto have already paid the transfer fee for the player and signed him to a contract to they are obligated to fulfill. Selling him to the league for him to be loaned back to the club would make no sense as it would in no way be in the best interest of anyone in the league outside of TFC.
The simple fact is that Toronto FC were given the chance to take advantage of this mechanism as MLS used it to help them sign Urruti but then they made the move to trade the player. At the time it seemed the move to trade Urruti to Portland was due to the team wanting to open up another DP slot but that is not the case as Urruti was not counted as a DP and that will not change in 2014.
TFC have also been given a fair bit of help from the league to complete other moves this offseason. MLSE may have covered the majority of the money spent on Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley but the league did help pay for part of the American midfielder's transfer fee.
No matter what happens with Laba it would be hard to make a case that the league is screwing TFC over in any of this. The club were aware of the rules when they signed Bradley but it was a chance that they felt was too good to pass up. Now they have to make the best of the Laba situation but unless there are other new rules out there waiting to come to light his exit seems inevitable.