Today at noon the LA Galaxy are expected to announce that they're making Omar Gonzalez the third designated player on the 2013 squad. If you're reading this, you likely have opinions on this move either positive or negative. I'm going to try and work though my own feelings on this topic.
MLS is a league built on a model of parity, with a salary cap full of exceptions. The fact that it's a soft cap is no longer controversial (except in some circles which want the salary cap to be a brick wall with the rules nailed to it), but there's still a general perception that MLS makes up the rules as they go along. Yet, every exception make sense from the perspective of the league. For example
The Generation adidas program, which has been around long enough to have had two different title sponsors, is in place to make top draft picks essentially risk free. Instead of risking smaller less wealthy teams punting draft picks due to fear of having to pay top talent hefty contracts, MLS takes on the burden of payment and lets the teams simply worry about stocking solid young players. The Galaxy benefited from this program after some crazy turmoil left them with a top draft pick. Omar Gonzalez' salary was payed by the league for three years, which saw the club gel into Supporter's Shield contenders and an MLS Cup appearance, and earned Gonzalez a contract renewal. Then there were the two MLS Cups, and Gonzalez won MLS Cup 2012 MVP.
In that respect, Gonzalez the Designated Player is a GA success story. The league foots the bill as the young talented player finds their footing, and then after achieving success the team repays the player with a hefty contract out of pocket. Replacing David Beckham, the player who created the DP rule, with Gonzalez who probably still knows the words to the Maryland fight song is progress for the league. DPs aren't just flashy foreign signings who will sell tons of t-shirts. They can also be talent from within that have proven worthy of further investment.
Gonzalez rose quickly, and in some respects just had bad luck with changes to MLS' exceptions. The Young DP rule would have still rewarded Gonzalez but with less of a cap hit to the Galaxy, except Gonzalez is a year too old. The Retention Funds pool would have kept Gonzalez in LA at a nice sum, but wouldn't have tied up a Designated Player spot.
Getting the DP contract halfway through the year, Gonzalez won't be that significant of a cap hit and likely there's allocation money sitting around that can buy down his contract so that his cap hit could end up less than it was in the first half of the year.
It could be that after failing to bring in a foreign star, the Galaxy decided to make an economically prudent move that will help them balance this year's budget as well as prepare them for the future. Should Gonzalez still decide to try Europe in the next transfer window, LA now has the leverage to command a high transfer fee instead of losing him on a free transfer. If not, the Galaxy have locked up an up and coming national team regular who will only continue to see his star rise.
It's a solid move, and one that should keep Gonzalez' head in the action on the pitch and not on the upcoming winter transfer window.