Raising the Bar: Soccer Designated Player Rule

Andrew Kovacs

In the dynamic landscape of Major League Soccer (MLS), the “Soccer Designated Player Rule” has emerged as a groundbreaking mechanism that has transformed the league’s competitive landscape. 

Introduced in 2007, this rule grants MLS teams the ability to sign marquee players whose salaries exceed the league’s salary cap, thereby fostering an environment that attracts global soccer superstars. 

The Designated Player Rule has been instrumental in raising the profile of MLS, drawing international attention, and elevating the overall quality of play in the league. 

By allowing teams to sign up to three Designated Players, MLS has welcomed iconic figures like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimović, who have left an indelible mark on North American soccer. 

This article explores the intricacies and impact of the Soccer Designated Player Rule, delving into how it has shaped the league and fueled its remarkable growth.

Soccer Designated Player Rule

The Designated Player Rule, commonly referred to as the “DP Rule,” is a significant mechanism in Major League Soccer (MLS) that allows teams to sign star players whose salaries exceed the league’s salary cap.

The rule was introduced in 2007 to enhance the league’s competitiveness and attract high-profile players from around the world. 

Here’s a breakdown of the Designated Player Rule and its key aspects:

Salary Cap Relief

In MLS, there is a salary cap that limits how much teams can spend on player salaries. 

However, the Designated Player Rule provides teams with salary cap relief by allowing them to sign up to three players whose wages exceed the cap.

Maximum Salary Charge

Each Designated Player’s salary is subject to a “maximum salary charge” under the salary cap rules. 

As of the 2021 MLS season, the maximum salary charge for a Designated Player is higher than the regular salary cap, providing teams with more flexibility to bring in high-earning stars.

Third Designated Player

Initially, teams were allowed to have only two Designated Players. However, in 2016, MLS introduced the “Targeted Allocation Money” (TAM), which provides teams with additional funds to sign players who are slightly below the Designated Player threshold. 

As a result, teams can now have three Designated Players, offering even more opportunities to attract top talent.

International Players

The Designated Player Rule is open to both domestic and international players, making it appealing for MLS teams to sign well-known players from overseas. 

This has led to an influx of international stars, elevating the level of competition and increasing the league’s global appeal.

Impact on MLS

The Designated Player Rule has had a transformative effect on MLS, elevating the league’s status and attracting some of the world’s most recognizable soccer stars. 

Players like David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Josef Martinez have become household names in the United States, drawing more attention to MLS and helping the league expand its fanbase both domestically and internationally.

The Designated Player Rule has proven to be a game-changer for Major League Soccer, allowing teams to bring in marquee players who add excitement and quality to the league. 

It has played a crucial role in the growth and popularity of soccer in the United States and continues to be a central aspect of MLS’s player acquisition and talent retention strategies.

When Was The Designated Player Rule Introduced? 

When Was The Designated Player Rule Introduced

The Designated Player Rule, also known as the “DP Rule,” was introduced in Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2007. 

Here’s a breakdown of its introduction and key points:

Year of Introduction

The Designated Player Rule was implemented by MLS ahead of the 2007 season. This rule was a response to the league’s desire to compete with other top-tier soccer leagues globally and attract high-profile players from around the world.

Origins and Motivation

The inspiration for the Designated Player Rule came after MLS missed out on signing prominent international players, including David Beckham, due to the league’s salary cap restrictions. 

MLS recognized the need to offer teams more flexibility in acquiring star players whose salaries exceeded the league’s salary cap limits. 

By introducing the DP Rule, MLS aimed to increase the competitiveness of its teams, enhance the quality of play, and raise the overall profile of the league.

Beckham’s Signing

The first-ever player to be signed under the Designated Player Rule was English soccer icon, David Beckham. 

He joined the LA Galaxy in January 2007, capturing worldwide attention and boosting MLS’s global visibility significantly. Beckham’s high-profile move to MLS set a precedent for future Designated Player signings and paved the way for other international stars to follow suit.

Impact and Growth

The introduction of the Designated Player Rule had a transformative impact on MLS. It opened the door for the league to attract top-tier talent from various countries, bringing in well-known players with impressive resumes and drawing attention to the league on a global scale. 

This influx of talent elevated the level of competition, increased attendance, television viewership, and merchandise sales, and helped MLS expand its fanbase both within the United States and internationally.

Expansion of DP Slots

Over the years, MLS has made adjustments to the Designated Player Rule. Initially, each team was allowed two DP slots. 

However, in 2016, the league introduced the concept of “Targeted Allocation Money” (TAM), which allows teams to sign players who are slightly below the Designated Player threshold while still providing salary cap relief. 

This change enabled teams to have up to three Designated Players, further enhancing the league’s ability to attract high-quality talent.

The introduction of the Designated Player Rule was a pivotal moment for Major League Soccer, propelling the league into a new era of growth and prominence. 

Since its inception, the DP Rule has become an integral part of MLS’s player acquisition strategy, allowing teams to sign global superstars and elevating the league’s status in the world of soccer.

Who Are The Most Famous Designated Players? 

Who Are The Most Famous Designated Players

Here are some most famous designated players-

David Beckham

One of the most iconic and influential soccer players of his generation, David Beckham is often regarded as the first true superstar to join Major League Soccer (MLS) as a Designated Player. 

Beckham’s move to the LA Galaxy in 2007 marked a significant moment for the league, attracting immense media attention and propelling MLS into the global spotlight. 

With his exceptional passing, free-kick ability, and unparalleled marketing appeal, Beckham’s presence in MLS helped raise the league’s profile and cemented him as one of the most famous Designated Players in history.

Thierry Henry

The French football legend Thierry Henry made a splash in MLS when he joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010. 

Known for his lethal goal-scoring prowess and creative playmaking, Henry’s tenure in MLS showcased his footballing brilliance to North American fans. 

He became a crucial figure for the Red Bulls, leaving a lasting impact on the team’s success and setting a high standard for future Designated Players.

Zlatan Ibrahimović

A larger-than-life personality both on and off the field, Zlatan Ibrahimović made a grand entrance to MLS by signing with the LA Galaxy in 2018. 

The Swedish striker’s extraordinary skills and charisma endeared him to fans, and he quickly became a fan favorite in the league. 

Ibrahimović’s scoring prowess, including stunning goals from incredible distances, contributed significantly to the Galaxy’s success and solidified his status as one of MLS’s most famous Designated Players.

Andrea Pirlo

The Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo brought his elegant style of play to MLS when he joined New York City FC in 2015. 

Renowned for his exceptional passing, vision, and ability to control the game’s tempo, Pirlo’s arrival elevated the league’s soccer sophistication. 

His presence on the field enriched the soccer experience for fans and aspiring players alike, making him one of the most esteemed Designated Players to grace MLS.

Carlos Vela

The Mexican forward Carlos Vela has been a standout Designated Player for Los Angeles FC since the club’s inception in 2018. 

With his incredible goal-scoring ability, technical skill, and versatility on the field, Vela quickly became a star in MLS. 

His performances have garnered widespread acclaim, earning him numerous individual awards, including the MLS Golden Boot and MVP honors. As one of the league’s most outstanding players, Vela’s impact on the pitch has solidified his status as a famous Designated Player in MLS history.

These Designated Players have left an indelible mark on Major League Soccer, captivating audiences with their immense talent and contributing to the league’s growth and global appeal. 

Their presence has elevated the level of play, enriched the soccer culture in North America, and inspired generations of young players to dream big and pursue their soccer aspirations.


What is the Soccer Designated Player Rule in MLS? 

The Soccer Designated Player Rule, commonly known as the “DP Rule,” is a mechanism introduced by Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2007. It allows MLS teams to sign star players whose salaries exceed the league’s salary cap.

How does the Designated Player Rule impact the salary cap? 

The Designated Player Rule provides salary cap relief for teams by exempting a portion of a Designated Player’s salary from counting toward the regular salary cap. 

Can Designate Players to be international players? 

Yes, Designated Players can be both domestic players from the United States and international players from other countries. This rule allows MLS teams to attract top talent from around the world, making the league appealing to renowned soccer stars globally.

Can a team have more than three Designated Players? 

While MLS initially allowed teams to have up to two Designated Players, the introduction of the “Targeted Allocation Money” (TAM) in 2016 expanded the opportunity for teams to have up to three Designated Players. 

How have Designated Players impacted MLS? 

Designated Players have had a transformative impact on MLS, elevating the league’s status and global appeal. The arrival of high-profile players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimović drew significant media attention and increased the league’s visibility worldwide. 


The Soccer Designated Player Rule stands as a defining feature of Major League Soccer’s evolution, forever altering the landscape of professional soccer in North America. 

Since its inception in 2007, the rule has facilitated the influx of international football legends, making MLS a destination for some of the game’s most illustrious talents. 

The signings of players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and others have not only contributed to an increase in attendance, television viewership, and merchandise sales but have also raised the level of competition and excitement within the league. 

As MLS continues to expand and gain global recognition, the Designated Player Rule remains a cornerstone of the league’s growth strategy, encouraging teams to invest in top-tier talent while captivating fans with the artistry and brilliance of soccer’s finest. 

With the Designated Player Rule as a driving force, MLS sets its sights on a future filled with immense potential and possibilities on the international stage.

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Andrew Kovacs

I am a Head Boys Soccer Coach at Amherst Regional Public Schools in Massachusetts. I have coached for the past five years and I am currently working on my master's degree in Exercise Science. I coach soccer because I love the game and I enjoy being around the kids. It is rewarding to see them develop their skills and grow as individuals. LinkedIn