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New DP programme for MLS?

Is the Designated Player programme getting another tweak. A comment from Kevin Payne last week suggests as much. But how would it work?

Could Danny and Torsten soon be getting a new young DP friend?
Could Danny and Torsten soon be getting a new young DP friend?
Richard Wolowicz

Lost amid all the SuperDraft SuperHype last week, was an interview with Kevin Payne by Daniel Girard of the Star, published online on Wednesday and in the physical paper on Thursday.

There was the usual cliches about hard work, making BMO Field a fortress etc. There was another reference to 'the Red thread connecting us all' (horrible marketing phrase but it looks like they're going with it, I just hope it's not in any way on the jersey like All For One was) and talk of Inukshuks as a symbol to help change the culture, which prompted much hilarity on twitter (Wonder if Payne doesn't realise how bitter and cynical and ready too make fun we all are?).

Amidst all that though was one very interesting paragraph, which seems to reveal a new change to the league's Designated player programme.

"Also, we're first in line to participate in the league's new young, designated player program. So, as players are acquired by the league and made available to the teams, we're at the top of the list. This is a key program because the players will come in at a discounted cap charge and they also will not count (as one of team's three) designated players."

I first thought he was just talking about the existing 'young Designated Player' programme' so let's take a quick look at MLS roster rules regarding that programme specifically:

The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose salaries exceed their budget charges, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player's budget charge. Designated Player slots may be used to acquire players new to MLS or to retain current MLS players, subject to League approval.

In 2012, a Designated Player over the age of 23** will carry a salary budget charge of $350,000, unless the player joins his club in the middle of the season, in which case his budget charge will be $175,000.

A Designated Player 20 years old or younger** counts as $150,000 against the club's salary budget and a Designated Player 21-23 years old counts as $200,000 against the club's salary budget.

Clubs have the option of "buying down" the budget charge of a Designated Player with allocation money. The reduced charge may not be less than $150,000.

The budget charge for the midseason signing of a young Designated Player (23 years old and younger) is $150,000 and this amount cannot be lowered with allocation funds.

Each club has two Designated Player slots and clubs are allowed to "purchase" a third Designated Player slot for a one-time fee of $250,000 that will be dispersed in the form of allocation money to all clubs that do not have three Designated Players. Clubs will not have to buy the third DP roster slot to accommodate Designated Players 23 years old and younger.

Designated Player slots are not tradable.

What Payne said sounds kind of similar to the highlighted parts, and maybe that's exactly what he was talking about, and it was just poorly explained/written/edited. But there's definitely a couple of ways that it seems very different and suggests it is something new that's going to be happening.

Firstly, though the current 'young DP's' do count less towards the cap, and don't have to have the 3rd slot purchased for them, they do very much still count as Designated Players, whereas Payne suggests that players coming through this new programme won't count as DP's, and can be added to the 3 existing DP's a club might have.

Another difference is the suggestion that the league will be acquiring these players and then making them available to the teams, as opposed to how it is now where the teams have that responsibility to find the players and then they just require league approval.

Now that may just be a matter of semantics as MLS already technically does the acquiring and contract signing, but here's where things get different, and get very interesting for TFC. There's a list, and TFC are at the top of it.

What that sounds a lot like is the current Allocation process, wherein a U.S. National Team player who signs with MLS after playing abroad, or a former MLS player who returns to the League after having gone to a club abroad for a transfer fee doesn't get to choose where they play but instead gets alloted to whichever team is at the top of the list, which is sorted by the finish of the previous season, worst gets first pick etc. This is the process that enabled TFC to get Chad Barrett as a ransom when Brian McBride came back to MLS, as well as a conditional draft pick out of Seattle in exchange for Marcus Hahnemann, though they've never actually had a player happily sign up for them through this process.

At this point all Payne's comment does is raise questions really as to just how this would work. Is MLS actively going out to sign up talented young players to bring into the league? Would it be an expansion, a tweak to the focus of the allocation process as it is now, or would that still exist as well, meaning TFC are at the top of both lists going into this season? Will players be brought in randomly, when available through the year, or will there be a pool of players made available in a form of draft? Just how much would this 'discounted cap charge' actually charge towards the cap? How many players are MLS going to be able to bring in?

Obviously the majority of DP's so far have been older, more recognised players. Anything that helps bring in more talented young players, more than likely from South and Central America is a good thing, another welcome step towards all those lofty goals Don Garber was talking about at the SuperDraft while waiting for ESPN to be ready to televise the number 1 pick. If this is indeed a new programme, how it works, and how successfully it works will be an interesting part of the evolution of the league.