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A look at the Young Designated Player era

By Tom Sweezy

Image Courtesy of Ben Hofer

When you look around the landscape of Major League Soccer, outside of Lionel Messi who has taken over everything related to MLS, one of the most impactful on-field roster-building tools is the Young Designated Player (YDP). For those who are not aware of the “Young DP” rule in Major League Soccer, it is a benefit for MLS clubs to sign younger players to DP contracts. How is it a benefit? Well MLS clubs are charged salary budget-wise differently than standard DP. If an MLS club signs a YDP aged 21-23 years old, the club is only charged salary-wise $200,000. If an MLS club signs a YDP aged 20 and younger, then the club is only charged salary-wise $150,000.

Now, why am I writing this piece and where can we see tangible production from the YDP in Major League Soccer? Well, I did bring up Messi before for a reason. Two of Messi’s biggest rivals within Major League Soccer and the southeast United States have clear-cut examples of YDPs who are game-winners in this league. Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada and Orlando City SC’s Facundo Torres.

Image Courtesy of Ben Hofer

I will start with Torres from Orlando. Last season, Torres signed with Orlando City as a 22-year-old YDP winger from CA Peñarol. In his first season with Orlando City, Torres would prove to be worth the YDP title as he and the club won the U.S. Open Cup. He contributed to 26 goals across all competitions. Now, in his second season in MLS, Torres has scored seven goals and recorded three assists halfway through 2023. Torres has proven to be one of the best wingers in MLS since signing that YDP contract, won a trophy, and dominated on the field.

Image Courtesy of Abigail Mangum

Moving onto another one of Messi’s MLS rivals, who is also a FIFA World Cup-winning teammate, Almada. Atlanta United brought Almada over from CA Vélez Sarsfield last season and signed as a YDP where he was immediately a star. Almada was named the 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year to go with his seven goals scored and 12 assists. This season, Almada has eight goals and 10 assists and has been named an MLS All-Star. More proof of what a YDP can bring you both on and off the field, Almada has been highly connected to some of the largest clubs in the world for a transfer.

Another benefit of signing YDPs is that it unlocks three U22 initiative spots. These spots can be filled by players who are under 22 years old and can be signed for any transfer fee. Atlanta United utilized this initiative by signing Santiago Sosa three years ago who has been a regular contributor in their midfield. Orlando City has had similar success with this initiative as they signed César Araújo who has become a mainstay in their midfield since he arrived at the beginning of last season.

Both clubs of Orlando City and Atlanta United will inevitably get a large payday for their young talents. Almada and Torres aren’t the only proof of successful YDPs in MLS. Stars such as Talles Magno, Alan Velasco, Santiago Rodriguez, Leonardo Campana, and Jairo Torres are all current YDPs in MLS. All of these stars have produced in MLS, but there is also a high chance that they get sold in the future for large transfer fees. This is not a roster-building tool that all MLS clubs have utilized yet, but, leading into the future of this league I am going to guess we will only see more highlighted.

*All of these rules and a bit more can be found on MLS’s website