Prior to the announcement that Real Salt Lake had signed Jefferson Savarino as a designated player, fans were surprised to learn that Damir Kreilach and Sergio Cordova are DPs this season.
Many fans around the club and league had assumed RSL had no DPs, as Albert Rusnak was thought to be the only DP in 2021. However, the Kreilach roster designation was less surprising than Cordova's, as RSL mentioned with Kreilach's contract extension that the midfielder was above the standard roster amount. From the club's 2020 announcement:
"As Kreilach will make above the maximum salary budget charge, the club will determine his roster designation for next season ahead of the 2021 Roster Compliance Date."
When the MLS Player's Association announced player salaries in September of the 2021 season, Kreilach was revelaed to be making a base salary of $1.2 million a year, well above the threshold for entering DP territory.
The Cordova announcement was surprising as clubs usually announce that a signee is a designated player upon acquisition, as RSL did with Savarino. The club's announcement of Cordova simply said, "Real Salt Lake has signed FW Sergio Cordova via loan from FC Augsburg for the 2022 Major League Soccer season, the Utah-based Club announced today."
MLS roster rules are not clear on who can be a DP. From the league's list of roster rules and regulations:
"Designated Players may be new players signed to MLS via the Allocation Ranking List or the Discovery Process, or they may be re-signed existing players on a club's roster."
The rule does not mention loan players such as Cordova. However, it is likely safe to assume the listing was examples rather than a set boundary and that "signed to MLS" also refers to players signed via loan. This assumption was confirmed by RSL's Director of Public Relations Trey Fitz-Gerald when I informally reached out to him about the rule on Twitter.
Now that RSL fans know they have all three DPs, they can see if the players in question are worth the designation. DPs often make or break a team's success and some of the best teams win trophies on the back of their DPs.
What is a Designated Player, and why are they important?
MLS teams are allowed to have 30 rostered players, which the 18-man gameday roster is selected from. 20 players are on the Senior Roster, with the next 10 designated to the Supplemental Roster. The Senior Roster players' compensations must combine for less than the league's Salary Budget, commonly referred to as a salary cap, which is $4.9 million in 2022. Additionally, no individual player can count more than $612,500 toward the Salary Budget.
If a player makes more than $612,500 (including acquisition costs, which are only included during the first season), his club must designate him as a designated player. Only three designated players are allowed on one team at a time. After being listed as a DP, a player receives his regular salary while counting $612,500 toward a team's Salary Budget.
For example, Damir Kreilach still receives checks totaling $1.2 million a season, but he only counts $612,500 toward the RSL Salary Budget.
Players can still make more than $612,500 and not be DPs if their clubs "buy-down" their contracts. The player still receives the same amount of money in his contract, with the team spending allocation money to be roster compliant. Here is the example provided by the league:
"A club may buy down a player earning $700,000 to a Salary Budget Charge of $500,000 by using $200,000 of General Allocation Money."
Teams received $1,625,000 in GAM for the 2022 season, with more awarded based on various circumstances. Beyond using GAM toward DPs, teams can use the league-only money in trades and other transactions. Clubs also received $2.8 million in Targeted Allocation Money this season. TAM can only be used on various roster mechanisms and cannot be traded.
In Kreilach's case, RSL could spend $587,500 in TAM to free-up another DP spot, leaving the club with $2,212,500 in TAM for other purposes. General Manager Elliot Fall said the club could also "buy-down" Cordova.
Because teams can typically only pay three players above $612,500, a DP spot is extremely valuable. Below are grades for RSL's three DPs, as these players will now be held under extra scrutiny.
Sergio Cordova: B-
Cordova has not been exceptional this season, scoring just one goal to go with one assist in 10 appearances (six starts). However, he has shown flashes of brilliance. He is second on the team behind Pablo Ruiz in total scoring attempts with 14 and first in shots on target with 7. He also has five key passes, the most among RSL forwards.
Some fans may think Cordova deserves less than a B- because of his scoring stats, which is a fair criticism. But I hesitate to punish forwards for not scoring when there is not a solid playmaker behind them. Until RSL has one, the jury should remain out on Cordova. A B- is not anything to be proud of and is just ahead of "passing," which I think is fair in this instance. If Cordova's stats stay the same with a playmaker on the team, his grade could quickly plummet to the D range.
Damir Kreilach: A+
While hampered by injuries in 2022, Kreilach was the best player on the team last season, scoring 16 goals and recording nine assists. He is just as important for the club as an on and off-field leader, being announced as captain during the recent offseason. Kreilach has also shown his love for the fans throughout his time in Utah, including buying 100 season tickets to be used for underserved children in the newly-created "Kreilach Corner" at Rio Tinto Stadium.
A fan-favorite, Kreilach is the kind of player to always fill up the stat sheet, do the right thing and end up with his number retired by the club. He is exactly the kind of player a club wants as a DP.
Jefferson Savarino: A
Not only did the front office bring back Savarino, they brought him back for a long time. He is signed through 2025 with a club option for 2026. During three seasons at RSL from 2017 to 2019, Savarino registered 22 goals and 21 assists while also leading the team in shots and shots on goal. He had 87 appearances and 83 starts.
A proven RSL and MLS commodity, the club made a great call bringing back Savarino on the contract he is on. He has the potential to lead the team in offense for years to come, and is in the prime of his career at just 25-years-old.
The only reason I gave Kreilach an A+ and Savarino "just" an A is because Kreilach is a proven asset with the current roster. Savarino is obviously proven from his three previous seasons in MLS, but it remains to be seen how he will integrate into this current team. The signing receives an A+, and Savarino's performance will quickly slide to an A+, barring a disaster.