There are a few takeaways from Tuesday’s announcement that “young” Designated Players will count for less against the cap than their older brethren. Going by the math, one Thierry Henry is equal to two-and-a-quarter Fabián Castillos. It’s a real enticement for teams that have struggled to fit multiple DPs on a roster without killing their depth.
Another read is that MLS is getting serious about bringing in more young, exciting attackers. Nobody’s going to use a DP slot on an 18-year-old defender unless the next Paolo Maldini is up for grabs, and players like that only come along once every 30 years.
But teenaged forwards, wingers, attacking midfielders? Sure, most take some stuff off the table thanks to inexperience, but as we’ve seen with the likes of Castillo, Danny Mwanga, Juan Agudelo, Andy Najar and others, the good more than outweighs the bad if the talent’s there.
And finally, this is a shot across the bow of Scandinavian and Mexican teams that have increasingly poached American talent thanks to their respective head starts on youth and reserve development. The message is that the league wants to keep the region’s best, be it Yanks heading overseas or kids like Omar Salgado who are/were academy standouts South of the Border.
With that in mind, here are five potential DP targets MLS clubs should be eyeing in the offseason:
Gatt plays his footy on the other side of the world with Molde FK of the Norwegian top flight. And by now you’ve probably seen highlights of his wonder-goal in league play earlier this month, a weaving solo effort through the IK Start defense that broke defenders’ ankles all over the pitch.
Like all US players who head to Scandinavia, Gatt holds the hope of someday moving to a bigger European league. And with the talent he has shown so far, it’s a fair bet he’ll get there.
But that doesn’t mean a MLS club can’t step in and make him a “Godfather” offer. And there are plenty of teams that should — fleet-footed wingers who can both score and defend don’t exactly grow on trees. Gatt turns 20 at the end of the month, which means he’d have several years as a young DP to lead his team to glory.
BEST FITS: New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps, Colorado Rapids
José Adolfo Valencia
Colombia has always been fertile ground for MLS, and FC Dallas have led the way with quality pickups, from Óscar Pareja to David Ferreira to Castillo, Valencia’s U-20 teammate.
But the real connection here isn’t Valencia’s teammate — it’s his dad. Adolfo “El Tren” Valencia starred with both the Colombian national team — he scored against the US in the 1994 World Cup — and, later, with the MetroStars in MLS. The younger Valencia is cut from the same mold as the older: big, rugged and surprisingly nimble in the attacking third.
Like Castillo, Valencia was used primarily as a sub in the U-20 World Cup, and the Independiente Santa Fe man showed effectiveness in terms of holding up the ball, bringing his midfield into the play and generally being a nuisance in and around the penalty area. He hasn’t made his splash on the club level yet, but he’s still just 19 years old and getting his feet under him in the top flight.
It probably won’t take long. He’s got the right blood lines and looks the part of a lead-the-line striker.
BEST FITS: Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers
Mejía, who turns 21 in October, would fit snugly into the “21-to-23” range for the new young DP category. He’s a pure attacker who put on a show for Colombia in the 2009 U-20 South American Championships, but nobody’s quite figured out how to use him yet on the pro level. He had some transfer paperwork issues in Europe that hindered his development, then got buried on the bench at Uruguayan giants Peñarol last season.
This year, he’s trying to find his feet on the other side of Montevideo with Danubio, Uruguay’s third-largest team, and the feeling is he’s about to break out. Many consider him “the next David Ferreira,” which should be all the incentive an enterprising MLS team needs.
BEST FITS: New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes
Marlon de Jesús
The No. 1 target on this list, de Jesús has already established himself as a pro with El Nacional in Ecuador, for whom he scored 10 goals in 16 appearances last year as a 19 year old. He’s one of the most highly regarded young players in South America despite bouncing around from club to club, including time with River Plate in Argentina (maybe they could have used him to avoid relegation instead of burying him on the bench, eh?).
The Ecuadorean is built like a bull. He’s exactly what folks have in mind when they talk about the physical characteristics of a center forward, standing 6-foot-1, weighing about 200 pounds and using every inch and ounce of it to physically dominate defenders.
What sets him apart, though — and what got him a call-up to the Ecuadorean full national team before he turned 20 — is that he knows what to do off the ball as well. Think of him as a South American Conor Casey in that regard.
BEST FITS: Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew
FC Dallas and Toronto FC are going to get a good look at Izazola, the Pumas UNAM striker over the next few weeks. The Mexico City-based club has pretty much announced the kids will be tasked with taking the team through the CONCACAF Champions League group phase, and Izazola is one of the talents they want to highlight.
It’s the 19-year-old’s big chance to impress and win a role beyond that of late-game substitute. If he’s able to hold his own physically against the likes of George John, Ugo Ihemelu and Andy Iro, chances are he’ll catch the eye of more than a few teams across the continent. Whether Pumas will slap a ridiculous price tag on him remains an open and obvious question, but if he could be gotten, he’s probably worth getting.
BEST FITS: D.C. United, Chivas USA, Chicago Fire