Joe Roth frequently talks about the stars aligning when he refers to the Sounders FC.
Those stars may soon become more plentiful after Major League Soccer announced changes to the Designated Player program today, opening up the league to more opportunities to sign big-name stars from around the world. Already with Freddie Ljungberg signed to a Designated Player contract and international stars Kasey Keller and Fredy Montero on their roster, the Sounders FC plan to utilize that expansion to build on their inaugural success.
“This franchise is an aggressive and progressive thinking franchise and certainly we are going to look to use this new rule to our best advantage,” owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said. “It allows us to open our eyes and imagine some more very special players playing for our fans here in Seattle.”
Each team in the league now has two Designated Player slots, with the opportunity to add a third slot at a cost of $250,000, to be distributed evenly among all teams that do not carry three Designated Players.
The Sounders FC used their DP slot to sign Ljungberg prior to the 2009 season and his late surge in the team’s inaugural year prompted MLS Commissioner Don Garber to praise the Ljungberg signing and site it as an example of successful use of the exception. He even foreshadowed the announcement last week when he spoke at halftime of the Sounders FC’s 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union.
“That DP program has been successful for us, certainly Freddie Ljungberg is a good example of that, and I think it makes sense to take a look at expanding the Designated Player rule,” Garber said.
Added Hanauer, “Freddie has been fantastic. You can see on any given Saturday the quality he has out there and I know Freddie would love to have other players potentially from Europe out there with him. I think all of our guys would love the opportunity to continue to play with better and better teammates and ultimately lead to more wins and championships.”
Instituted in 2007, the DP rule allowed teams to sign players outside of their allotted salary cap and was first used by the LA Galaxy to sign David Beckham. Since then, the exception has been utilized for 13 players, including six who are still in the league.
With the mixed results from the program, goalkeeper Kasey Keller is hesitant to say that the Sounders FC must add another DP.
“I think it's good if it's done in the right ways. We can build big names in America. Everyone knows who the players are here in Seattle. People know who Zakuani is. People know who Osvaldo Alonso is. You don't have to necessarily bring in Thierry Henry to get fans in the seats if you do it the right way,” Keller said. “Now is it great having those players in your league? Of course. The best thing that Beckham has done was to get everyone around the world know what MLS is. Have the attendances gone through the roof? No, not really. But there is a little bit more awareness around the world, which is a great thing. Hopefully it gets better and better.”
As the team has displayed throughout their existence, the Sounders FC is disciplined and responsible organization that doesn’t make snap decisions without thinking of the long-term repercussions.
“We want to be here for a lot of years. We want the stadium to be full for a lot of years and if we run a business that doesn’t allow us to do that, to do all of the things that keep the business functioning, then that’s not good for anyone. That said, with the ability, responsibly, to do that we certainly want to keep that cycle going where we bring more and better players in and keep our fans interested.”