MLS 101: How did DaMarcus Beasley end up in Houston?

Houston announced the arrival of U.S. international left back DaMarcus Beasley as a Designated Player on Wednesday. It took a bit of work to clear the way to sign him. 

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DaMarcus Beasley expressed interest in returning to MLS at several points over the past few years. He wanted to return for a second spell in the United States as he prepared for his denouement. It made sense from a personal and professional perspective after a successful career in Europe and Mexico.

It never quite made sense for MLS in the past, though. Beasley fits awkwardly into the model generally used to tempt foreign-based United States men’s national team players back to the league. He demands more than a maximum salary deal given his market elsewhere, but he isn’t a traditional Designated Player option because he usually operates at left back.

MLS teams, by and large, do not commit DP dollars to left backs (or most left wingers, for that matter). There simply isn’t enough room under the $3.1 million salary budget to consider spending significant capital on a player in that spot. It isn’t a matter of ability. It is more of a function of trying to build a complete, well rounded side. Fullback is one of the spots where teams scrimp to spend lavishly elsewhere.

The gap between Beasley’s compensation in Mexico and his value in MLS scuttled his attempts to move back to the United States over the past few years. There were no workable solutions involved. Beasley didn’t want to take a hefty pay cut from his mid-to-high six figure wages to play at home. MLS didn’t want to match his salary in Mexico with clubs skittish about paying the freight. And so the two parties went about their business separately.

Beasley’s prominent role in the U.S. setup at the World Cup and MLS’ increasingly generous approach to compensating national team players altered the calculus this summer. Beasley left Puebla after his contract expired and reached an agreement with MLS on satisfactory terms. His entire package — including his salary and his signing bonus — classified him as a Designated Player for salary budget purposes.

At that point, the process turned from sealing an agreement to finding a club willing and able to accept his salary budget hit. Beasley — as a Designated Player signed in midseason — carries a budget charge of $193,750 for the remainder of the season. Few teams leave that sort of salary budget room open as a matter of course. Even fewer want to cut into their current rosters to open that sort of space to reinforce for a left back or a left winger under guaranteed contract for multiple seasons.

MLS generally surveys the scene before striking a deal of this magnitude. It does not reach agreements based on hope. It signs players with the knowledge they will find a safe home somewhere, even if the league needs to absorb some costs, locate a willing club to facilitate the move somehow or tweak a few regulations to make it happen.

It is a bit harder to make it happen at this point during the season. Most clubs have their rosters fairly well set. Some teams don’t have the DP slots available. Others do not wish to use them on a particular player. And most teams face salary budget issues when confronted with the prospect of assuming a large hit at this stage of the season. The pool of potential destinations whittles down quickly.

Houston eventually held up its hand as a landing spot and worked its way into position to acquire Beasley. As one might expect, it took some maneuvering to sort out the finer points within this convoluted system before the official announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

MLS opted to place Beasley into the allocation order instead of employing the more circuitous tactics used to shepherd Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey into the league. The decision meant the Dynamo needed to clear out the necessary salary budget room (quite the task given the experienced and generally well compensated roster) to acquire Beasley. Houston shipped Warren Creavalle to TFC on Wednesday afternoon in exchange for an undisclosed amount of allocation money (likely to mitigate the impact of Beasley’s salary budget hit) and the top spot of the allocation order. By moving to the top of the order, Houston can now use its perch to formally land Beasley.

The entire sequence illustrates the complexities of bringing a player to Beasley to the league. Even with the accommodations sometimes involved in these transactions, there are many moving parts to consider. It is down to Houston and Beasley to ensure all of the machinations prove worthwhile in the years to come.