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Re-calibrating the DP rules in Major League Soccer

Former German captain Michael Ballack ... en route to MLS?
Former German captain Michael Ballack ... en route to MLS?

It may be time to review some of the informal rules that govern the weighty Designated Player decisions in Major League Soccer.

Check that. It's time to review some of the informal rules that should govern the weighty Designated Player decisions in Major League Soccer.

First, about half of them don't work. Not on any level. They fail to produce goals or wins or added revenue. They are big ol' flop-a-rooskies. (Here's a list ... see for yourself.)

Second, just because someone can "still play" in their home country, that hardly equates to a slam dunk success here. Far from it.

Third, people tend to diminish age as a consideration, theorizing that veteran know-how gained over years in a superior league will mitigate any loss of speed, etc.

Fourth, they all can't play in New York or Los Angeles.

That's really it. And yet, MLS teams (and even more the fans that follow clubs) repeatedly lose their way.

Lately, we've heard former German captain Michael Ballack and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero may be kicking the tires on MLS.

We've also heard about Didier Drogba, among others.

Before anyone goes out and puts $69 on a Ballack- or Drogba- jersey, remember that 90 percent of the names that roll across the MLS wire never kick a ball in an actual MLS match. Period. So, let's keep our shirts on about all this stuff. (Get it? Shirts … Hee-hee.)

Drogba? Yes, it could happen. But so many of these guys SAY they want to play in MLS … right up until the moment they learn that wages won't quite be what they think. In terms of a car, they'd go from a Bentley to a BMW. Now, I like BMWs. But if you like Bentley's, that Beamer might not jingle your keys.

Let's look quickly at Drogba, whose wages are about £105,000 a week at Stamford Bridge. That's roughly $8 million or so annually. Yes, the Los Angeles Galaxy would probably love to have Drogba's goal-scoring talents. But at $8 million annually? It just doesn't add up in the dollar and good sense department.

Ballack? He's 35. And yet he's a young man compared to Del Piero, who is 37.

I know, I know! As my pal Marc Stein said the other day on our radio show, "Del Piero is still starting at Juventus, so you know he's good enough."

Well, yes and no. He's good enough to know exactly how to manage Serie A. But can he pour the same level of devotion into, say, the Chicago Fire shirt? Or Montreal? I just don't know.

And if you listen to just about every player who storms ashore, they say the exact same thing: "This league is harder than people think." It's not the technical ability that makes it a bear for adjusting -- it's everything else. It's the travel. It's the referees. It's the physical ways. It's the high level of athleticism, even if it isn't always channeled into technical and tactical expertise.

All that gets compounded by the injury factor, which goes way up for these fellows anyway.

Finally, there's the marketing equation. I've said it 100 times before -- there's David Beckham, and there's everyone else.

So, don't tell me that Michael Ballack or Alesandro Del Piero will sell a bunch of tickets. They'll sell some … but almost certainly not enough to justify an exorbitant salary.

(Del Piero, by the way, says his focus is "turned toward New York or Los Angeles." Yeah, well, whose ain't? See Rule 4 above.

I'm not saying some MLS club shouldn't sign one of these guys. I just think the variables we study sometimes need recalibration and reconsideration.

They might work. They might make sense. But they frequently deserve to be examined with a little more skepticism, a little less giddy, knee-jerk enthusiasm about these guys.