First New York City FC unveiled their first Designated Player, Spain international David Villa. Now, it appears Orlando City SC is poised to announce the signing of former Ballon d'Or winner Kaka. Both teams are still eight months away from officially playing a match in Major League Soccer, but they are already having a profound effect on the league.
For some, the signings are just the latest example of how MLS is a retirement league. Villa and Kaka join the likes of Thierry Henry, Cuahtemoc Blanco and Freddie Ljungberg as relatively big-name players who came to MLS only after their time on the international stage was finished. In both cases, though, it probably does a disservice to the players.
Villa, while no longer a key cog in Spain's machine, was still good enough to make this summer's World Cup squad. True, he wasn't good enough to play in either of Spain's first two games, but he also doesn't have quite the same stink on him that his teammates may have as a result of their being the first team eliminated from the competition. And it's not as if Villa, 32, is exactly washed up, either. Villa is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he scored 10 and 13 goals for La Liga champions Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, respectively.
Kaka may not be the best player in the world anymore, or even close to it, but the 32-year-old is coming off a season at AC Milan in which he scored nine goals in about 3,000 minutes across all competitions. A Seleção may no longer be calling his name, but he'll be more useful to Orlando City than simply a tool to sell tickets to Brazilian tourists.
Arguing over a league's status as a retirement league is probably pointless, though. The only relevant questions about any signing are these: Does he help raise the league's overall quality and does he help make the league more marketable. Every signing, big or small, ideally has the first question answered in the affirmative. All available evidence suggests these signings address both. Let critics have their fun, but pay them no mind.
Rather, actual fans of MLS should be more interested in how these signings effect the soon-to-expire negotiations over the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It has long been suspected that Manchester City-owned NYCFC and Brazilian billionaire-funded Orlando City would immediately join the league's big spenders. These signings, though, are proof.
In other words, that means there are two more votes at the Board of Governors table who will be pushing to loosen the purse strings. They surely won't be looking to kill the salary cap or usher in unfettered free agency, but the prospect of the league adding a fourth Designated Player or other mechanisms that allow teams to bring in new, higher-priced talent are getting more likely.
Of similar interest is the even greater reluctance to sit through some kind of work stoppage. Some seem to think that a strike or lockout are almost inevitable, based mostly on Commissioner Don Garber's repeated statements that the league continues to be operating at a loss.
As if a new TV contract that will bring in nearly $100 million a year weren't enough reason to do everything possible to make sure games aren't missed, these new owners are going to want to start recouping their sizable investments sooner than later. A work stoppage is the greatest threat to the possibility their money will have gone to waste.
Rich people don't get that way by being bad negotiators. They also don't get into business to sit on the sidelines and let their investments sit idle.