The Sporting News this morning published a great interview with Robbie Keane, written by Brian Straus (link). In it he's very complimentary of the league and the LA Galaxy, and he's also bullish on MLS' future. Regarding MLS becoming a top league:
"In 10 years' time, this league would be massive if you extend it to five players. If you don't extend it to five players, it's going to be the same."
As MLS has stated it wants to reach a new plateau, then we have to ask if Keane is right. Is the extension of the DP rule MLS' key to getting to the next level. I absolutely agree with him, as more DP spots means teams are more likely to take advantage of different types of DPs. So how ready is the league for expansion of the rule?
Going off of MLS' list of Designated Players, which is fairly up to date (it hasn't done to Shalrie Joseph trade or acknowledged Fredy Montero going away for a year, but it has removed David Beckham and Rafa Marquez) here's how many DPs each club has.
Vancouver Whitecaps 3, Seattle Sounders 3, D.C. United 2, Portland Timbers 2, LA Galaxy 2, New York Red Bulls 2, Chicago Fire 2, FC Dallas 2, Real Salt Lake 2, Toronto FC 2, Sporting Kansas City 1, Philadelphia Union 1, Chivas USA 1, Montreal Impact 1, New England Revolution 1, Houston Dynamo 1, Columbus Crew 1, San Jose Earthquakes 0, Colorado Rapids 0
The Galaxy are sure to join the three DP set sooner than later, and the Red Bulls have been there as well. Counterbalancing those at the top are the San Jose Earthquakes who have only gone the DP route once in 2010, doing a one and done deal with Geovanni Deiberson Mauricio. He made just 12 appearances and scored one goal. The Colorado Rapids have never signed a designated player.
What we have simultaneously are teams pushing at the ceiling and teams refusing to get up off the floor. San Jose doesn't even have to go far, they could simply reward Chris Wondolowski for being excellent at soccer. The Rapids get some leeway thanks to their 2010 MLS Cup winning playoff run, but it's really time they went out and found a truly marketable player.
Before MLS considers going to fourth and eventually a fifth designated player, it has to get the Quakes and Rapids to sign one. Cause if MLS' calling card is its parity, having teams with five DPs and team with none isn't going to go well to accomplish that.
Conversely, Keane is right that MLS needs to get to five DPs over the next ten years if it wants to achieve the oft stated goal of being a top league internationally. Not that MLS will suddenly break out of being a feeder league with two more DP spots, but with more to play with we'll likely see more teams willing to use the young DP rule; which would increase the amount and quality of young players MLS could eventually sell.
More young DPs, and more players having trouble getting first team minutes in Europe toward the end of their careers, can only be good for MLS. As soon as those on the bottom get with the program, MLS can open up things for everyone.