MLS released the details of the long hinted new rule yesterday, "Targeted Allocation Money". This is the end result of what had been rumored to be the "Core Player" rule I discussed earlier in the week. The changes between now and then change the whole outlook on the rule. The full details are now on the league website.
Now here is the mea culpa, I got a key part of the rule wrong. Any team can use the TAM mechanism, they don't have to be using all three Designated Player slots. Crew SC aren't frozen out of the rule and that changes my entire impression. This rule change is an immediate injection of funds into the league for the benefit of all teams.
It's true that the headline is that the Galaxy are lining up to use the rule to buy down Omar Gonzalez's contract to a non-DP level and then sign Giovanni Dos Santos. They will have what amounts to a fourth designated player. And yes, many of the three DP teams are looking to use the rule. Toronto FC may try to bring back Gilberto, Seattle is assessing how to use their allotment, and NYCFC is in the market for more talent.
However, the rule also helps the league's more frugal teams with the TAM's flexibility. This is the rule that helps the teams that are choosing to construct a roster through more modest means. Yes, this includes teams like Crew SC.
With only a single DP, Columbus can still use the TAM to bring in talent that fits how Gregg Berhalter is trying to build the team. The team hasn't focused on the big name stars, they have brought in solid pros at non-DP salaries. This gives Crew SC further ability to bring in talent that starts to reach into the DP tier to bring in a game changing talent.
The other option is to use the rule to re-sign players to new deals that would normally fall into the DP range. Previously, teams in MLS would lose out on some players after their contract expired as they looked to move overseas for a bigger payday, but TAM is partly designed to keep those players in the league.
For Crew SC, the rule can be used to sign an existing player who is due a big payday. This means that Columbus has another tool to keep Wil Trapp in the league during contract negotiations. There will be some players looking for a bigger stage, but for players who are looking for a better deal while staying in MLS, TAM will help.
Finally, if the team doesn't want to use the TAM, it's tradeable and there will be a market for it. There will be a big spending club in the league looking for some salary budget relief.
The key reservation about the rule is how it's a targeted tool rather than broad based. Recent conversations I've had have focused on how league could have raised the cap $100,000 for each team and injected the same amount of money into the system. This isn't about injecting money into the league, it's about bringing in or keeping a certain type of player. That DP type player not earning a multimillion dollar contract.
MLS wouldn't be served if Omar Gonzalez was the odd man out when LA signs Dos Santos. Just like the league would lose if players like Federico Higuain or Diego Valeri hadn't joined the league or players like Graham Zusi or Matt Besler weren't retained. TAM gives teams another tool to go out and get those players.
In trying to target these types of players, the league had three options. They could have added a fourth DP and further allowed the free spenders to bring in expensive talent. They also could have done nothing, forcing LA to make a choice between Gonzalez and Dos Santos and softening the resolve of MLS rank and file in bringing in this mid tier player. They chose the measured approach to build league rosters in the middle.
Eventually, MLS will have to work to build quality down the roster, beyond the DPs and the top earners, but that's likely to come during CBA negotiations and not a moment sooner.
For now, the league has given teams a little more incentive to spend and bring in better players. The Pirlo's of the world are nice, but it's players like, Higuain, Valeri, Besler, and Zusi that make a lot of teams in MLS go on a weekly basis.