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How MLS’s new Under-22 initiative impacts FC Dallas

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FC Dallas has a long history of going for younger talent and now they can potentially spend more.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since the dawn of the Designated Player rule in Major League Soccer and the evolution of that rule to include younger players, FC Dallas has always looked for that next young player that can make an impact on their roster. Whether it was Fabian Castillo, Carlos Gruezo, Mauro Diaz, Santiago Mosquera or ones that never truly worked out like Anibal Chala or Pablo Aranguiz, the club has tried various ways to go younger with their bigger signings.

Now MLS is set to introduce a new rule that will likely radically change how the team can spend on younger players with the new U-22 initiative that is set to debut.

The new rule and how it’s rumored to work.

Despite this initiative not yet being officially announced from the league, there is plenty to go on based on how folks are currently reporting it across the league. Most of this is from Sam Stejskal’s breakdown in The Athletic, which you should read in it’s entirety should you have the time.

Similar to most other roster rules in MLS, this one is meant to give teams greater flexibility in acquiring players while staying under the salary cap. The main points:

In other words, the initiative basically functions like the DP rule, only specifically for acquiring players under the age of 22. It allows MLS teams to spend as much as they need to get young talent, while not worrying about how transfer fees would count against their overall budget charge...which is possibly the bigger part of all of this.

Teams will be able to sign at least one and potentially up to three players under this new initiative, depending on their number and age of the DPs already on the roster (we’ll talk more about this with FCD in a second).

How the new rule could impact FC Dallas

Look, we all know that FC Dallas has a long history of signing young players. Their academy is deep with talent and this rule could help keep some players longer or at least set FC Dallas up to protect themselves from losing out on another Weston McKennie. We’ve seen the team dip into their Targeted Allocation Money in recent years for contract upgrades for guys like Jesus Ferreira, Paxton Pomykal, and even for some that secured a transfer last year like Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds.

I would imagine FC Dallas will continue to protect their investments with this rule by using it to sign higher profile Homegrown players. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually use it to sign a DP-level player.

But it is certainly a tricky thing. Andre Zanotta will have to be crafty with this new rule since teams can sign from one to three U-22 players depending on their number and age of current designated players. A team that has three DPs over the age of 23 — and can’t have their contracts bought down with TAM — can sign one U-22 player. Teams with at least one DP under the age of 23, or at least one of any age that can have their contract bought down by TAM, can sign up to three U-22 players.

Right now, FC Dallas as we know has two DPs in Bryan Acosta and Franco Jara. Both are over the age of 23 but there is a possibility that each could be bought down with TAM, especially Jara since he was a free transfer last year and did not have a fee attached to him. Acosta on the other hand had a pretty heft transfer fee attached to him when FC Dallas acquired him ahead of the 2019 season.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Future building for FC Dallas

Still, FC Dallas has some flexibility here with their roster construction for this year and years to come. After all, the team has gobbled up millions in the last couple of years in transfer fees that could really dictate how they use this new rule. They could opt to protect their HGPs with it or should they take the Atlanta or LAFC route in signing an expensive South American.

My gut tells me though that we’ll see HGPs get the better share of this when the time comes rather than an expensive transfer. Still, given how this could be a team that is expected to contend for a MLS Cup, we could see them go out this summer and pick up a young starlet that puts them over the top.