New league rule will let Sounders add major stars

Major League Soccer has announced new rules that allow teams to sign up to three high-priced stars, and Sounders FC immediately expressed interest in adding talent.

“This franchise is an aggressive and progressive-thinking and -looking franchise, and certainly we’re going to look to use this new rule to our best advantage,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “It allows us to open our eyes and imagine some more very, very special players playing for our fans here in Seattle.”

The new rules announced Thursday allow each team two roster slots for designated players, a classification that allows clubs to pay that player any amount in a way that doesn’t fully count against the salary cap.

The DP slot has been used for some the league’s best-known players, including David Beckham of Los Angeles, Juan Pablo Angel of New York and Freddie Ljungberg of Seattle.

However, while the rule created in 2007 allowed each team one such player, the new rule allows two DP slots along with the right to purchase a third from another club.

“We have a good business,” Hanauer said. “It’s a $250,000 charge to buy a DP. It’s certainly something that’s conceivable.”

Hanauer said the extra DP slot also could be assigned to Swiss international striker Blaise Nkufo, who already has announced that he will join the club in mid-July. Or it could be used to increase the chances of keeping an existing player, rather than losing him to a more lucrative offer overseas.

However, Hanauer seemed most interested in using the new rule for new talent.

“I wouldn’t want to predict how we use the DP slots,” he said. “But certainly we will look to get better as a team always, whether that means bringing guys in on salaries that fit within the cap or designated players. … We certainly want to keep that cycle going where we bring more and better players in and keep our fans interested.”

Hanauer and Sounders majority owner Joe Roth have pointed to Ljungberg as a DP success story for what he has added to the club on and off the pitch.

Current international stars regularly mentioned as DP candidates include Barcelona’s Thierry Henry and Real Madrid’s Raul Gonzalez.

“You’re looking for a player that can be a breakthrough figure locally and nationally,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “Somebody that can give the team relevance in the local market against all competition but also give us respect throughout the international soccer community.”

However, Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said clubs should choose carefully when introducing a millionaire into a locker room where some veterans make as little as $40,000 a year. And international stars need to understand the realities of the 15-year-old league.

“You’ve got to know what you’re getting yourself into: You’re flying (seat) 26F on the flight back East,” Keller said. “You know it’s not the same (as with the glamour clubs of Europe). And if you don’t understand that and you don’t understand what you’re getting yourself into, then you’ve made the wrong choice because what we’re still trying to do is build the sport. … Nothing’s worse than if you’re making 40 grand and you’re working twice as hard as the guy making $4 million.”

The league’s new collective bargaining agreement raises team salary caps from $2.3 million last season to just over $2.5 million this season.

Sounders union representative James Riley said additional DP slots were not a significant issue during labor negotiations.

“Some teams have done fine without a DP – like New England hasn’t gotten a DP yet,” he said. “Houston was a fantastic team and they just got a DP (Luis Angel Landin). With that, obviously it brings a little more excitement to the game if you can get a big name who mixes well and fits well with the league.”

Added time

Riley (hamstring) said he is fit enough to play Saturday when New York visits Qwest Field. … Defender Jeff Parke did not train with the Sounders on Thursday while considering what Hanauer implied could be a final contract offer from the club.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808