Almiron. Colman. Elis.
Alessandrini. Blanco. Mensah.
The names, maybe you've heard mentioned. Maybe you're even familiar. Maybe you think you know, but you have no idea.
Major League Soccer might have just had a revolution. With a nod to Kevin Kinkead's primary legwork, as of Thursday, 81 players had signed during the Primary Transfer Window, all from international leagues. The average age? 25.73. And 58 percent come with an international cap.
Thirteen new Designated Players inked deals. (Jelle Van Damme caught an upgrade after playing for LA last season.) The eldest, New York City FC's midfield addition Maxi Moralez, turns 30 this week. Five are Young DPs, under the age of 23. The baby of the group, Houston Dynamo speedster and budding CONCACAF legend Alberth Elis, just turned 21. Just.
Overall, the Designated Player pool averages 27.68 years on this Earth, with 12 under 24 and 32 under 30.
Remember what Commissioner Garber's always saying about being "a league of choice"? Don't look now, but …
The 21-year-old Elis is the youngest of 13 new Designated Player signings so far.
Trust Fernando Clavijo on this one. The technical director for FC Dallas since 2012, and affiliated with the league since its fledgling stages, has developed a mindset at FCD that centers around the high-reward potential young players offer, whether the return ends up being lengthy service and rock-solid club culture or a big-time payout on the transfer market. Or sometimes both.
"There was a tendency to try to convince the players to come to MLS, that you tried to sell a way of life on what the United States was all about, and why they would benefit," Clavijo says. "You needed to convince some of these players. Today, that's not the case.
"Wherever you travel, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador or in Europe, MLS is a destination right now. We are a place where people like to come. They know what it is, they know the league, they watch games. That has changed drastically from 20 years ago. Drastically. It's good. Today you can compete with teams around the world to sign those players; before it was not the case."
Coveted forward Cristian Colman scored just 30 minutes into his FC Dallas debut Thursday.
And don't think it's only the MLS lifers that think the competition for young talent is officially open. Darren Eales, President of expansion side Atlanta United FC, joined the outfit in 2014 following lauded runs at English Premier League sides Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion. He envisioned a continuation of his success with both player acquisition and disposal, creating a crucial reinvestment influx while simultaneously providing a top-tier product on the pitch.
Tasked with "selling a dream" due to the lack of any on-field product, Eales is quick to praise the MLS league office and individual clubs for the groundwork that enabled Atlanta to make one of the splashiest – yet perhaps most measured – entrances into the domestic league.
Buoyed by owner Arthur Blank's commitment to a $1.5 billion state-of-the-art, fan-first stadium project (it opens in July), as well as a $60 million training facility (opening in April) that is intended to be "best in MLS", Eales identified an opportunity to strike.
"Part of our jigsaw with the core founders was that player development: Come to Atlanta United and the league, you can come develop as a player, you can get better as a player," Eales says. "And having a coach like [Gerardo] Tata Martino certainly helps us do that in those discussions."
The pitch worked: First on Argentine winger Hector Villalba (21 years old) and then Paraguyan No. 10 Miguel Almiron (22), and most recently, Venezuelan forward Josef Martinez (23). Beyond the DPs, key signings include a pair of Argentines, attacking midfielder Yamil Asad (22) and center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (24), as well as Greek goalkeeper Alexander Tambakis (24), the first player in club history.
"We chose to go down a route where all those name players are concerned, they're all 24 years or younger," Eales says. "That's an approach we felt would be the best way for us to be as competitive as we could from the start, given everything an expansion team has to face coming into the league. But that's not to say that's it's the right way or the only way to do it."
That there are many ways to skin the MLS salary budget is accepted fact, and the 2015 injection of Targeted Allocation Money into the system has only furthered the cap calculus. Look at a founding franchise like the LA Galaxy, the five-time MLS Cup winning vanguard, and note that they've transitioned two DP slots away from Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, with the resultant opportunities going … internal?
Galaxy President Chris Klein pointed to TAM as the main reason LA were able to retain Homegrown talent Gyasi Zardes, whose ascension to the US national team meant he was due for higher pay for more seasons. And previous TAM recipient Van Damme was upgraded to DP, notably leaving those targeted coffers open to Jermaine Jones now, and potentially someone else come the Secondary Transfer Window.
But the Galaxy's gravity was sure to grip international talent, and the additions made by General Manager and Vice President of Soccer Operations Pete Vagenas – 23-year-old TAM midfielder Joao Pedro and 27-year-old DP Romain Alessandrini (we all knew at least one was coming now, obvs) – fit right in with the current crop of on-the-rise or in-their-prime acquisitions.
"There wasn't one thing that we looked at, and Pete and his group looked at and said, 'Oh yeah, we have to go young.'" Klein explains. "We're bringing through a lot of our academy players and the foundation of our roster still comes from that, but we're certainly going to sprinkle in players that make us better, because the objective at the end of the day is to win now and win next year and win the year after that."
This brings us back to Clavijo, who joked that the rest of the league is finally catching up the method that has driven FC Dallas' sustained run of regular-season, and now cup, success. The roster rules are complex; he acknowledges "it's a 24-hour commitment" to ensure maximum rates of return on all their nuances.
Their academy is renowned, its ever-present motto – Busca la forma – echoing the annual efforts toward roster reshuffling. Find the way.
For more and more MLS clubs, the way is younger. The way is upside. The way will be worth this offseason wait.