Definition of Designated Player (MLS)

What is a "designated player" in the world of Major League Soccer (MLS)? What is meant by a designated player?

During the 2019 MLS soccer season, the salary cap per team was a total of $4,240,000.

Given this information, how are players like Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela all currently playing in the league, despite the fact that all three are making millions of dollars per year in compensation? Wouldn't this blow up the salary cap?

The answer: the Designated Player Rule, which allows MLS teams to sign up to three players whose total compensation exceeds the Maximum Salary Budget Charge (which was $530,000 during the 2019 MLS season).

The reason behind the Designated Player Rule is simple - the league wants star talent, and this talent must be compensated handsomely in order to play.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a classic example of a player signed under the Designated Player Rule in the Major League Soccer.

The Designated Player Rule came about thanks to David Beckham. In order to make it as a league, the MLS knew that they would need to attract star talent. Beckham was one of the biggest names in soccer, and he wasn't going to play in Major League Soccer without collecting millions of dollars per year in the process. As a result, the league allowed one "Designated Player", which allowed the Los Angeles Galaxy to sign Beckham for $6.5 million per year, which was much higher than the total per-team salary cap at the time.

Over the years, names such as Tim Howard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger have all been signed as designated players.


As mentioned, teams can have up to three Designated Players on their team.

For each designated player, the league will cover the salary up to the Maximum Salary Budget Charge ($530,000, unless that player joins during the Secondary Transfer Window, in which case the budget charge will drop to $265,000). The team is responsible for the remaining compensation.

In the case of a designated player, only the $530,000 will count towards the cap, which is why teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy are able to shell out many millions for star players.

All clubs are allocated two Designated Player slots, though a third can be added by paying a $150,000 fee to the league. This money will then be divided amongst the clubs that had two or fewer occupied Designated Player slots in the form of General Allocation money.

"Young designated players" carry a special Young Designated Player Salary Budget Charge, with players aged 20 and younger having a charge of $150,000, while players aged 21-23 with carry a charge of $200,000.

Designated Player spots are no longer tradable.