It's Designated-Player, not "Players"

In high school, one might sometimes think young girls call one another to coordinate outfits. In a related vein, one has to wonder whether pundits email one another to coordinate colums.

Today, two of soccer punditry's heavy-weights weighed in on the fizzling, petering disappointment once celebrated as The Beckham Rule - e.g. the newly-minted designated player rule - and they reach similar conclusions through different paths. Paul Gardner, writing for the New York Sun observes that the Beckham Rule may have done all it can - e.g. bring in Beckham, a move that rather abruptly shined a spotlight on a league that probably doesn't know the word "spotlight." Ives Galarcep, in an item posted on, mainly laments the designated-player rule's current inability to bring in trick-footed foreign players to Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs' youth development programs time to catch up.

The columns come together in the world of lamentation: i.e. is this all there is?

The more I think about it, the more I think it's both right and wise to say, yes - on one level at least. The more time passes, the more it seems that getting Beckham was a fluke, one built on his rather unique media profile and what that means to MLS. I can honestly think of no other player in the world who enjoys the level of celebrity as Beckham - e.g. the kind of celebrity that goes beyond soccer and into U.S. pop culture (e.g. "Wasn't he in that movie that starred that Indian girl from E.R.?). There are better players out there - plenty of 'em by my count - but those are players whose signing would be significant only to existing fans. Even if it were possible to sign as many world-class players as there are individual owner-operators in MLS, how much marketing upside would we get for all the money this would certainly take? Not enough by my count.

Assuming Beckham is a one-off, where do we go from here? Here again, I think both pundits would agree - and, for what it's worth, I'd nod along with them: since we can't realistically compete with Europe, let's just find any players we can to raise the level on the field. Their names might not mean anything, even to long-time, deeply-geeky fans of MLS - and the list both Galarcep and Gardner produced contains great examples and not a little crossover: Mauricio Cienfuegos, Christian Gomez, Carlos Ruiz, etc. etc. The trick, I suppose, is finding these kinds of players all over again and, when you find them, taking some risks on them, breaking the bank where you have to.

We're at a point where the names don't matter. Beckham's did, but that's done; It's all about what these players can do on the field. That said, when Beckham finally retires from the game, I'm all for finding the closest thing to him and showering him in money...

On a personal note, it's my understanding that the league has placed restrictions on how the New England Revolution can spend money from the trade that sent Clint Dempsey to England's Fulham. If the team can only spend $500,000 of $2.6 million on a player, I say they dump a big-assed chunk of that to flying scouts to Argentina, Brazil, England...I don't care where...till they can find a good way to spend that $500K.


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