The arms race begins in MLS

Published Jul. 21, 2010 9:24 a.m. EDT

And what about the concerns that the new rules will turn the league into a league of Haves and Have Nots? It’s no surprise that the aforementioned teams are from the three biggest markets in the country. MLS has implemented a system that essentially taxes teams that sign three Designated Players and distributes that money to the teams that don’t have multiple DPs.

That’s good news for teams like Philadelphia and New England, who have yet to sign a Designated Player. The word out of Philadelphia is that the expansion team is focusing on player development rather than splashing millions on big names who aren’t likely to be around long.

It is getting more difficult for those teams though, especially with players like Henry and Ronaldinho now considering MLS. Where in the past, teams had to pin their hopes on one Designated Player signing, having three DP slots makes it that much more likely that a team can provide a serious talent boost and make itself stronger more quickly.

That fact is going to eventually force the league’s thriftier teams to start spending to keep up. It won’t be easy for every team in MLS to land a player like Henry or Ronaldinho, but it is clear foreign players are looking at MLS as a more favorable destination, so signing quality foreigners should only become easier for teams across the board.

Not every team has the luxury that Philadelphia has of being a new team with a rabid fan base packing a new stadium, a fan base that isn’t quite demanding a winner just yet. For the Union, it makes sense to wait to sign a Designated Player. The same can’t be said for teams such as Houston, Colorado and FC Dallas, who have tickets to sell, and playoff and title aspirations, but who could find themselves struggling to deal with stacked teams like Los Angeles and New York.

MLS had no choice but to start letting teams spend more freely, and the early evidence suggests that the move came at just the right time. If all, or even some, of the stars linked to MLS come aboard, the league’s profile will continue to grow, and if the team’s free-spending teams find success thanks to this new financial freedom, we could be in for a prolonged arms race that should only make the 15-year-old league better.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for covering the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer.