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Young Guns

A new mechanism to the roster rules adds flexibility to teams who sign younger Desigtnated Players.

Back in 2008 when the Adrian Hanauer and Chris Henderson were scouting Fredy Montero, they had expressed a strong desire to scour the globe for quality young players who could develop their talents in Major League Soccer with the Sounders FC.

Three years later, the league has announced an amendment to the Designated Player rule that allows teams to sign younger players without taking the same hit against the salary budget.

“It goes without saying that we would be excited about the rule.  We participated in it even before there was a salary cap benefit to it,” Hanauer said.

Indeed the Sounders have already been leaning toward more youthful players in their Designated Player signings.  The club’s first two DPs were Freddie Ljungberg, who debuted with the Sounders at 31 years old in 2009, and Blaise Nkufo, who was 35 when he joined the team last year.  Since then, they added a 24-year-old Alvaro Fernandez and re-signed a 23-year-old Fredy Montero.

Under the new variation to the Designated Player rule, teams would take a reduced hit for players who qualify under the DP rule, but are under the age of 23.  Players 20 years old and younger will now count $150,000 against the projected $2.67 million salary budget for 2012 while players 21-23 would count for $200,000.  Those figures are down from the $335,000 hit that players over the age of 23 count against the budget under the rule.

“A lot of things can make us one of the top leagues in the world in the next ten years.  Bringing in the best young players is a piece to that puzzle,” Hanauer said.  “There is the DP part and the Academy part, but signing good young foreign talent may be the most important part.”

The hope through the league is that teams will be encouraged to sign more players like Montero while still vying for world talents like Thierry Henry.

Already FC Dallas has signed 19-year-old Colombian Fabian Castillo to a Designated Player contract and the New England Revolution signed 22-year-old Argentine striker Milton Caraglio, both of whom would fit into the parameters of the new system.

“We’re getting good players, veteran players and players with experience but we’ve been out of the market for young, promising players in this area,” said Todd Durbin, the MLS executive vice president of competition and player relations. “We’re hoping with this rule change we’ll tear down this last barrier of entry and bring in quality players at every place in their career and truly have the ability to get into the market of young players to be able to bring in and grow stars of the future for Major League Soccer.”

Armed with the anticipation that such a rule would be put into effect, Hanauer said he was not as desperate to track down a third Designated Player in the just-closed transfer window once his two primary targets fell through.

“It was one of the secondary factors in not wanting to go too far outside of our 100% certain targets in the transfer window.  We wanted the flexibility to participate in the rule,” said Hanauer, adding that players that qualify to benefit from the rule are already being targeted for the Sounders.  “Knowing that the rule was already coming down the pipeline, we already have been scouting some potential targets that would fall into that category.”