As the MLS season approaches, MLSsoccer.com marks each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for March 2.
4 – Number of Designated Players added to the league ranks prior to the 2013 season.
With the addition of San Jose Earthquakes star Chris Wondolowski to the Designated Player ranks, the reigning Golden Boot champion is fourth player to sign such a deal in the offseason, joining Sporting Kansas City's Claudio BIeler, Portland's Diego Valeri (above) and D.C. United's Rafael.
The Designated Player tag is a tricky beast, conferring both great promise and great expectations. Will a player be an Ángel or Saborío, or will he be a Denílson or a Mista? With a player like Wondolowski and his three straight seasons leaing MLS in goals, you're fairly certain what you'll get. But things get a bit more speculative from there.
With the Argentine duo of Valeri and Bieler their bodies of work prior to MLS – and in Valeri's case during preseason – provide plenty of room for optimism. The 20-year-old Rafael, meanwhile, has much left to prove at all levels.
There's no way to be absolutely certain which DPs will transform a team's fortunes and which ones will flop until they actually hit the field, but that's part of what makes the DP rule such a talking point. In almost every case, the tag singles a player out as the team's star and one of their highest paid players so there is little room to underperform.
The 2013 DP count may hold through the first part of the season, but – of course – it is almost certain to grow. The Seattle Sounders are actively involved in pursuing a new Designated Player in Spain, and it's hard to imagine that the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, or even the newly Torsten Frings-less Toronto FC aren't up to something.
One thing is certain, though: the Designated Player rule has added plenty of quality to the league, and continues to add an extra wrinkle to the constant flow of rumors and player transactions. In short, it's been a lot of fun to follow, and let's hope it stays that way.