Signing Lionel Messi as a designated player feels illegal, but here we are.

From Messi to Muriel: 17 designated MLS players worth watching in 2024

To our friends in North America, the concept of designated players is a completely normal and accepted part of sport. The idea is a little bit alien to us here in the UK, however, so let us explain.

If you’re old enough to remember playing Football/Championship Manager when Serie A had restrictions on foreign players, you’ve got the gist already. Italian teams were only allowed to have a certain amount of foreign players in their squad, which is partially why many of the top Italian-based ballers of the time seemed to play for every Inter, Milan, and Juventus at some point in their career.

The Serie A rule also led to many foreign-born players with a claim to Italian heritage becoming oriundi—repatriated Italian citizens—in order to bypass the rules.

In MLS, teams are allowed up to three designated players at a time. Those players don’t necessarily have to be from outside of the US and Canada — designated players are simply players for whom a team pays a transfer fee or breaks their salary cap. It’s actually nicknamed The Beckham Rule for obvious reasons.

We spent our day diving into the higher-profile DPs in Major League Soccer. Consider this your beginner’s guide to MLS designated players, and who to look out for as the season unfolds.

Inter Miami: Lionel Messi & Sergio Busquets

Straight off the bat, the greatest holding midfielder of all time and the probably greatest player of all time, strutting around Miami in flamingo pink. We assumed one of the other ex-Barca legends would also be included here, but it seems David Beckham’s finance people have somehow conjured a way to sign Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez without declaring them as designated players… do they fancy doing our taxes for us?

Toronto FC: Lorenzo Insigne & Federico Bernardeschi

If you’d never heard of them, Ontario and Toronto could both feasibly be small towns in Italy. The perfect place, then, for an Italian revolution. These guys have still got it — non dormire su TFC. Don’t sleep on TFC.

Orlando City: Luis Muriel

If we told you the ex-Atalanta mercurial forward, who drew constant comparisons to the great Ronaldo Nazario, would be playing in purple next season, you’d assume he’d gone back to Fiorentina. Not so. Muriel is still only 32 and is going to do bits in Florida this season.

DC United: Christian Benteke & Mateusz Klich

Bentekkerz living it up in the capital. Him and Mateusz popping into NPR to do a Tiny Desk Concert of their DIY trap-hop songs about relegation battles. That’s a lovely thought, isn’t it?

Nashville SC: Sam Surridge & Walker Zimmerman

Born in Slough, spells at Bournemouth, Weymouth, Poole Town, Yeovil Town, Oldham, Swansea, Stoke, Nottingham Forest and, now… Nashville. An odd football journey for 25-year-old Surridge, but one we love.

Zimmerman is an American international and has never played outside of MLS. If you’re homegrown AND a designated player, you’ve got to be doing something right.

LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan celebrates scoring against Vancouver Whitecaps in Vancouver, Canada, August 2013.

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Vancouver Whitecaps: Ryan Gauld

The Scottish wonderkid that never was finally seems to have found a home. After signing for Sporting Club de Portugal as a teenager, he only ended up making two senior appearances the Lisbon team amidst multiple loans elsewhere. Gauld has been in Vancouver since 2021 and has made more appearances for them then he has any other team, nothing up an impressive 1 in 4 goal ratio in the process.

Minnesota United FC: Teemu Pukki

Now we’re talking. A man we all put in our Fantasy Premier League for 5.9 points, thinking we were geniuses. And we were. Wish him nothing but the best. It’s also very satisfying that a man who looks like Teemu Pukki is playing for a team whose NFL franchise are literally called The Vikings.

LA Galaxy: Riqui Puig

The Barca wonderkid told The Athletic that on returning to pre-season in 2022 Xavi, his friend and coach, told Puig he was no longer part of his plans and forbade him from training with the first team. Puig felt betrayed and decided to change his life and move to the other side of the world to make a career for himself in the States and, you know what, fair f*cking play.

Puig will be facing his old amigos Busquets and Alba this season. Definitely one to watch.

Chicago Fire: Xherdan Shaqiri

The Power Cube in the Windy City. Terrible title for a book, best thing to happen to Chicago since Kevin McAllister got left behind by his family. F*ck Jordan, Pippin, Rodman et al. Xherdan is the man. He might be one eighth their size, but he’s a whole lot of fun to watch. Enjoy him, Chicagoans.

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CF Montreal: Victor Wanyama

Did you know Wanyama grew up a Celtic fan in Kenya and chose the number 67 when he signed for the Bhoys in honour of the year the Lisbon Lions won the European Cup? So if you’d ever wondered what Billy Connolly, Rod Stewart, and Victor Wanyama have in common, now you know.

New England Revolution: Carles Gil

The ex-Villain has been doing the business Stateside since 2019, and he’s thriving. Just signed a new contract taking him to 2027. Club legend status incoming. Is he the best sportsman to grace the Gillette Stadium? Probably not, no. Is he better at (real) football than Tom Brady? Yes, definitely.

New York Red Bulls: Emil Forsberg

Good player, Forsberg. Bleeds Red Bull. The Taurine Dream. And if they ever shoot a remake of Game of Thrones in New York, he’s a shoe-in to play Jaime Lannister. Nailed on.

Houston Dynamo: Hector Herrera

A proper midfielder, is Hector. Tough tackling, technically sound, strong, good passer. A very smart signing by the Dynamo if you ask us. No frills, just midfield steel and functionality. A fine Tex-Mex dish.

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