Written by Tom Bateson
The Colorado Rapids did something they have never done before last week. Even though they’re one of the oldest teams in MLS, having played in the league since its inception in 1996, they had never signed a Designated Player
In simple terms, a DP is a player in MLS that makes a lot more money than most of the other players. David Beckham was one. Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Marco Di Vaio are examples of current DPs. MLS has always had a salary cap, which prevented teams from signing big name players, as of course, they would demand higher wages than what the teams could afford.
In 2007, the Designated Player rule was introduced, which allowed teams to sign players that cost more than the salary cap. The first DP was Beckham, who signed with the LA Galaxy in 2007.
Since then, many international stars have joined the league. Although this does increase MLS’ exposure, it has had the negative effect of the league being branded as a “retirement home” for players, as most DPs are above 30 years old and retire after a couple of seasons.
And this is why Colorado’s signing of Panamanian forward Gabriel Torres is rather significant. For he is 24 years old.
And he has bags of experience, having played for Panama’s national team 38 times, scoring seven goals. At the recent Gold Cup, he was joint top-scorer, along with Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski, with 5 goals.
MLS is starting to become an attractive league to play in. USMNT stars like Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, and Charlie Davies have all come back to the league in the last month, after playing in Europe for many seasons. Perhaps they’ve come back to further their chances of making it to next year’s World Cup? For when they left in the early 2000s, MLS was not a good place to be if you wanted to play internationally.
However, now a very large chunk of Jurgen Klinsman’s World Cup qualifying squad plays in MLS, featuring players such as Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, LA’s Omar Gonzalez, and Seattle’s Zach Scott. The triumphant US Gold Cup team contained loads of MLS players, including all three goalkeepers and the two top goalscorers.
Players like Goodson, Bocanegra, and Davies will want to appear next year in Brazil, and I think that if they hadn’t come back, and instead stayed in Europe, they would be pushed out the squad by the new crop of MLS players.
This probably accounts for why Torres has decided to sign for the Rapids, instead of plying his trade in Panama and other Central American leagues. Why did he choose to play in snowy Colorado instead of sunny Central America?
5 years ago it was unheard of for a young, talented, international player to transfer to MLS, instead the opposite happened (See Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley), but now the tides are changing and these players are coming back, and younger players are deciding to stay in MLS or come to it. This is exactly what MLS Commissioner Don Garber wants, and what MLS fans also want.
Garber wants MLS to become one of the top leagues in the world, and that will only happen if the players in it are top quality. Ageing superstars will no longer do, he wants young players, and he wants current players to stay. And this is exactly what is starting to happen.
The transfer could go one of two ways really. Earlier this year D.C United signed a young Brazilian, Rafael Augusto, a DP. In his first league game, Rafael scored a beautiful volley from miles out, and D.C fans were incredibly excited about their new signing. However a couple of months later he was gone. This is something Colorado will not be wanting to happen.
The Rapids were the last team to win the MLS Cup before the Galaxy’s recent dominance, and seeing as Torres is their first ever DP, they did it without a Designated Player. This is a very bold move for the club, as they are certainly stating their intentions by signing a DP that’s a forward, as he will be expected to score plenty of goals for his new team.
This is the other way the transfer could go, and it is what the Rapids, Garber, and MLS fans (Except maybe Real Salt Lake supporters) will be wanting. However, Torres did open his Rapids account with a goal for the reserves on Monday afternoon, as he struck the winner against Chivas USA.
I think that this signing is good for the Rapids. They’re gaining a youthful but experienced forward who can score goals internationally, and what team doesn’t want that?