The MLS season is nearly upon us, and aside from looking forward to the on-field action (which has started in earnest with…mixed results), the deadline for roster compliance is at the end of this week (presumably March 1).
Along with that deadline, MLS typically puts out their roster rules for the year. Most of the stuff in there is pretty standard for a sports league (even one with the unique structure of MLS), but there is one provision which could upend things this year: The Designated player.
As most everyone knows, each team can have up to three players who make more that the salary maximum ($504,375 in 2018, and it’ll go up to about $530,000 in 2019). Now, there are all sorts of mechanisms teams can use (TAM) to lower that number, but even Targeted Allocation Money has limits.
Any player making over $1.5 million can’t be bought down below the salary maximum. So if a team has three players over that amount, it can severely hamper your roster building. Even moreso if for some crazy reason you end up with four such players, given the limit of three DP’s imposed by the league. As most of us learned around second grade: Four doesn’t go into three. Not evenly, at least.
And so it is with the LA Galaxy, who are now employing *four* players making over $1.5 million. With the previously mentioned limit of three, the Galaxy have until the end of the week to resolve the issue. There are in fact ways for the Galaxy to solve the problem, but apparently none of those are particularly palatable.
The player we’re talking about is Gio Dos Santos, who is scheduled to make $6 million this year, and has not been very good for around two years (maybe more). Having given Zlatan a huge salary increase, and with two other productive DP’s in Romain Alessandrini and Jonathan Dos Santos, Gio is the obvious candidate to try to get rid of.
The ways which the Galaxy can rid themselves of Gio are apparently so intolerable, that the team is going to MLS (and may in fact have already done so) to present them with a way to keep all four players. The problem for the Galaxy is that there is no real way to do that without giving one of the players an extension which lowers their average salary to the point it can be bought down (which means you’re asking a star player to take a substantially smaller salary).
Otherwise, the Galaxy are left to move one of the players off the team, either by trading/selling them, or using the one-time buyout to waive the player. Apparently, the Galaxy have been given the okay by their parent company to buy out Gio, but for some reason that particular trigger hasn’t been pulled.
There was some talk about Gio being contractually able to refuse the Galaxy buying him out, but having spoken with lawyers, reporters and sports agents, that seems ludicrous. If the Galaxy want to pay him his full salary and tell him to take a hike, they are well within their rights to do so. If Gio wants to then find a new place to play after he is bought out/waived, he can go do that. There is no divine right to play for a team.
The simplest explanation makes a lot of sense: The roster deadline isn’t up, so the Galaxy are working to find a new home for Gio (and someone to assume some of his salary), and there is no reason to buy him out before they have to.
The other somewhat more sinister possibility is that MLS is about to “MLS,” and change the rules on the fly. MLS has a history of doing this in the past with the David Beckham rule and TAM, but in that case at least all teams got to avail themselves of the mechanisms of obtaining high-priced talent (if a bit later than the Galaxy). Here, simply changing the rules to benefit one team would be a bridge too far for some (most) fans.
So we’ll see what happens this week, as the season looms. MLS and the Galaxy have been tight-lipped since it was disclosed that there was a meeting in Mexico last week when this was to be discussed. However it’s resolved, it’s unlikely to make many people happy.
Updates: So, Don Garber has told multiple outlets there “won’t be any exceptions” to MLS roster rules. Now, that doesn’t mean that MLS won’t change the roster rules such that there aren’t exceptions, so take that for what it’s worth.
The worst take on this saga goes to Taylor Twellman, who for some reason pointed out that FC Dallas has four DP’s as if that has anything to do with the LA Galaxy situation. As Eliot McKinley pointed out, NEARLY EVERY TEAM has more than three DP’s, when you account for their salary. When you have more than three, you use TAM to buy them down. The point is that LA has four DP’s that you CAN’T buy down with TAM. Which is the whole point of this conversation.