On paper, the LA Galaxy’s deal to sign Cristian Pavón was a no brainer.
Pavón initially joined the Galaxy on a short-term loan from Boca Juniors until the end of the 2019 season. Reports suggest it is a free loan, and Pavón’s salary is low enough that it can be bought down with targeted allocation money. This means Pavón is not a designated player (DP), which keeps the Galaxy within MLS roster rules.
If the club wishes to retain Pavón, however, things become decidedly more expensive. According to the Athletic, Pavón’s salary will rise to over $1 million next season if the Galaxy triggers his loan deal for 2020, with the Galaxy paying a $600,000 loan fee to Boca Juniors. The club also have a $20 million purchase option on Pavón at the end of that season.
Although the financials on the deal are cut and dry, navigating the league’s roster regulations is less so. For Pavón to join the club permanently, the Galaxy will require an open DP slot.
At present, MLS allows for three ‘Designated Players’. These are players that would be considered outside the team’s salary cap (either by offering the player higher wages or by paying a transfer fee for the player).
Informally, it is often referred to as the ‘David Beckham rule’ as Beckham was the first example of such a player when he joined the Galaxy in 2007. The Galaxy currently counts Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jonathan Dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini as their three DPs.
“Cristian is a young and dynamic attacking addition who has the talent to be one of the most effective offensive players in Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy General Manager Dennis te Kloese. “He is a high-calibre player who will be a valuable piece to our roster moving forward. By providing him with a stable environment and a coach he knows well, we are confident that he can continue to grow and improve as a player within our club. We are extremely excited to add him to our squad and look forward to his contributions with the LA Galaxy.”
Understandably, some in MLS are unhappy to see the Galaxy gain a player of Pavón’s quality for what appears so little. The Argentine may have fallen out of favour at Boca Juniors, but he remains a talented player. He was part of his country’s 2018 World Cup squad and was linked with a transfer to Barcelona or Arsenal around the same time.
The deal was influenced heavily by the presence of LA Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who worked with Pavón at Boca. Some have expressed no issue with the deal for that reason. They see it as an ancillary benefit of hiring Schelotto, and a case of the coach leveraging pre-existing relationships to benefit his team.
Regardless of your argument, one position seems unanimous — MLS roster rules require further consideration.
There has been discussion in the past about modifying the salary cap and roster regulations. The latter is undoubtedly a more bold approach, but it could be on the table during the upcoming CBA negotiations this winter and motivated by the arrival of Pavón.
MLS has consistently spoken of how it wishes to continue growing, and developing, and trying to rival Liga MX (as evidenced in part by the birth of the Campeones Cup). Deals like Pavón’s denote how far the league has come in terms of attracting talent, but it reaffirms how teams must contort themselves to make it happen.
Therefore, the league will head into the upcoming CBA negotiations at a delicate crossroads. MLS is undoubtedly improving, but scrutiny of its future seems inevitable.
A more flexible salary cap would benefit ambitious clubs trying to secure the best talent, while also having a knock-on effect for those nurtured within MLS. It would allow MLS teams to reward domestic talent for their performances, and in turn, help teams maintain continuity.
Critics may argue that loosening the cap is merely delaying the inevitable, but right now it appears a visible compromise.
As is often the case, the CBA will seek to address several key topics relating to the league and its players.
When the Galaxy signed Beckham it marked a new chapter in MLS. The arrival of Pavón may not be as significant, but it may force through the next stage of the league’s growth and spending.