There seem to be two separate trains of thought on the Omar Gonzalez Designated Player signing. I've taken the position that retaining young talent through whatever means necessary is a good thing for the league (link). There are others who still hold onto the value that young players have to ply their trade in Europe in order to progress as a player.
There are a number of firsts when it comes to the Gonzalez DP signing, as well as a few small groups he joins. He's one of only six Americans to have designated player status, and the first defender. He's the first player to be awarded Designated Player status after coming out of the Generation adidas program which contains top college draft picks and MLS academy players.
That last point is key, as MLS hasn't always placed a priority on retaining up and coming talent. Clint Dempsey was the 8th pick in the MLS Draft and then left for Fulham two years later. Project-40 player Michael Bradley was sold after a year to the Netherlands. Clarence Goodson was also Project-40 player and lasted four seasons before being sold to Norway. In talking to Todd Dunivant, he agreed that there has been a change in the way the league treats its young talent.
"I think there's been a big push to retain guys, Americans players that we maybe would have lost to Scandinavia, some of those types of leagues which frankly aren't as good as us. If you're losing Chris Rolfe's, Pat Noonan's, Heath Pearce's, other guys, other American guys, the list goes on and on, the Clarence Goodson's that have gone on to those countries in their prime; that's a bad thing for our league."
Goodson and Dempsey came back to MLS with much celebration, while Michael Bradley is the face of American soccer over in Italy. Yet there's a counter-example to those success stories. Rolfe eventually caught on in Denmark, but returned to the Fire after a short stint. Pat Noonan in Norway was a bust, and Pearce's time in Germany was controversial.
"I think the league's realized that you need to keep those players in and I think that's why you've seen the Retention Funds come in, the fact that we're now actually willing to spend money to keep players."
As much as MLS has tried to stay committed to small growth, we're starting to see more and more exceptions made to keep talent here. Especially when it comes to players with ties to the US national team. The goal of MLS as hand in hand with the national team and its success is right around the corner.
It's a strange feeling for some. The rise of the US national team has come concurrent with players plying their trade in Europe. However, MLS had to get to a point where retention of top US talent was a priority.
It shows pride in the product. MLS has to believe it's good enough to offer US national team players a place to call home. It showed in using Retention Funds to keep Graham Zusi. It's showing in making Omar Gonzalez a Designated Player. And hopefully it'll show this winter in the re-signing of Landon Donovan.