What do the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas have in common, besides competing in Major League Soccer's Western Conference?
Both clubs advanced to this year's MLS Cup final, the league's championship game scheduled for Sunday at Toronto's BMO Field, without the services of a designated player.
Under MLS bylaws, teams are granted two designated player roster spots that they can use to sign marquee stars, with each DP player counting only $335,000 towards the $2.55 million US salary cap. Clubs also have the option of purchasing a third DP slot for $250,000.
The rule was designed to help elevate the level of play and star power in MLS by allowing teams to sign established players from abroad. The Los Angeles Galaxy famously made use of the DP regulation to sign David Beckham in January 2007.
Since its inception, several of the league's 16 teams have made use of the DP option, known as the Beckham Rule, at one time or another, including FC Dallas (in 2007 when it signed Brazilian World Cup winner Denilson).
No guarantee of success
But it's interesting to note that having a DP on your roster doesn't guarantee success. The Houston Dynamo (in 2007), Columbus Crew (2008) and Real Salt Lake (2009) all won the MLS Cup without a designated player, and either Dallas or Colorado will make it four years in a row after Sunday's final.
Their decisions to not sign a DP and instead build a balanced roster have paid off.
"With our system today, teams have to make a choice," MLS commissioner Don Garber told reporters earlier this week.
"They have to make a choice as to whether they want to invest in designated players that provide a wide variety of benefits to them, including a track record of experience performing [at a high level], in many cases overseas. Or do they want to spread their salary or spend their spending over players that perhaps don't earn the maximum salary, and, therefore, can provide a dynamic that will work for them.
"In this case, two of those teams, both Dallas and Colorado, have opted to do it without designated players," Garber said
Buoyed by the strike duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings (who combined for 27 goals), the Rapids qualified for their first MLS Cup final since 1997 by beating the San Jose Earthquakes (with designated player Geovanni) in the conference finals.
Dallas relied on the services of Colombian playmaker David Ferreira, who will be officially unveiled Friday as the league's MVP for the 2010 season, to upset defending champion Real Salt Lake, and the Los Angeles Galaxy (with two designated players: Beckham and Landon Donovan) and qualify for its first MLS Cup final.
The New York Red Bulls, with three DPs, bowed out in the first round of the playoffs, further driving home the point that the recipe for success doesn't necessarily have to include a designated player.
And Garber likes it that way because it leads to parity and a greater level of competitiveness in the league.
"The point is that we don't want to have a system like the one that existed in the [North American Soccer League] or other leagues where you can buy success. You might be able to balance success with designated players, but you're going to have to make sacrifices by not being able to spend as much money with the rest of your roster," Garber said.
"That story allows somebody in Denver or in Dallas or perhaps Salt Lake to believe that they could win the [MLS Cup] without having a designated player."