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Changing of the guard: Veteran DP’s a thing of MLS’ past?

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Ahead of the 2017 season, Major League Soccer is going through a transformative period.

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It will be both exciting and intriguing to see how it plays out.

The emphasis has switched from wedging in as many big name, veteran Designated Players in each market to trying to develop young talent at all 22 clubs.

I already had this column lined up before the new MLS roster rules for the 2017 season arrived earlier today.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

Major League Soccer announced changes that will help a “continued strategic focus on cultivating young talent” as two more roster spots will be available for Homegrown players and a large chunk ($200,000 to be exact) of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) can be used to sign Homegrown players to their first pro contracts.

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Okay, so that may not seem like a huge deal now but when you compare it to years gone by there’s definitely an undercurrent both from the league office and front offices across MLS to try and push young players from within MLS academies to the first team.

If you look at the big name “veteran” DPs around the league this season, there are probably four or five (Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Kaka) you can call genuine veterans. The rest are either approaching their prime or right at the end of it. The goal is to attract a Sebastian Giovinco type from Europe or elsewhere in their prime of their career. We’ve seen the likes of Seattle and Portland look to South America for DPs in their prime and it has worked well recently. Atlanta United is also following this method for their expansion season.

With the departure of Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Frank Lampard over the offseason, there’s no doubting that these players had the eyes of the world on them whenever they played.

Do MLS teams need these big name players to fill stadiums? It remains to be seen.

Robbie Keane, who is arguably the greatest DP in MLS history as he scored 104 goals in 165 appearances in his five years with the LA Galaxy, is a little concerned the new strategy may not work out.

“I had an unbelievable time there…but they just have to be careful now because some of the big players have left, and at the end of the day people want to watch names – that’s the just the reality,” Keane told Talksport last month. “Myself, Gerrard, Lampard and a few of the other big players are just starting to drift out, and now they’re going down to route where they want younger players who are not really well known.

“That is a good thing I think, but people do want to watch big names. They have to be careful – they’ve set a high standard that they have to keep going and I’m not sure if they go down this route they’ll be able to do that. So I’m a little bit worried about that.”

Is Keane right to be concerned? When you look at the Chinese Super League and what they’re trying to do, then its fits in with MLS’ model. Except, the CSL is spending big money on transfer fees and is paying outrageous wages for the likes of Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk and Jackson Martinez to play in China, most of which are in their prime.

MLS may no longer be the biggest cash cow for veteran players embarking on the twilight of their career after winning everything on offer in Europe. That’s exactly what MLS wants, to move away from veteran DPs, but surely it would still be beneficial for the growth of the league to keep adding big-name players, when possible, who have a large brand and following?

Robbie Keane & Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy
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Time will tell if that’s the case, but it is certainly exciting for fans of the U.S. and Canadian national teams to think that some of their best young talent will now get to play regularly in MLS and test themselves against top players.

Of course, MLS has a window of opportunity to test this out and then if things aren’t working, plenty more veteran DPs will be available from May onwards when their time at top European clubs is up. I’m talking Bastian Schweinstieger, Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Pablo Zabaleta and many others.

There’s no doubt that MLS is trying its best to help young talent come through, and that’s admirable. But there’s also a little uncertainty about how a lack of veteran stars will play out in terms of attracting fans and also any impact it may have on the quality of play. Can a handful of veteran players really make that big of a difference to the success of a league?

We are about to find out.

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

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It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.

David Luiz “took a risk” to return to Chelsea, PL — and it paid off

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You should always bet on yourself, and that’s exactly what David Luiz did last summer in returning to Chelsea and the Premier League.

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Whether or not you succeed is secondary to believing in and backing yourself to to do well in an situation, no matter how difficult. When Luiz left Chelsea in the summer of 2014, he did so as something of a joke in PL circles — his eccentric playing style had caused him to commit a number of memorable sometimes-hilarious gaffes which eventually branded him a liability as a “defender.”

After two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, where he won everything that French football has to offer, Luiz was given an opportunity to return to England and prove wrong so many who had doubted him. It was a “risk,” according to Luiz, but an opportunity he couldn’t pass up — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was winning everything in Paris. I was there for two years and won all the titles in France. I had a great life, great credibility with the club. … I had everything.

“But then I took a risk to come back to the one country that was not that happy with me. Where they always criticized me a lot even after winning the Champions League, the Europa League or where I’d played all the games. That’s why it was a risk. And I love the risk. If you don’t take risks in your life — in your professional life but also in everyday life — you never feel anything new, so I [chose to] taste something new. I don’t like to stay always with the easy life, but I’m happy now because I took the right decision.”

Antonio Conte, the manager who sought to bring Luiz back to Stamford Bridge, heard what everyone was saying about the 30-year-old Brazilian international, and he couldn’t believe his ears — quotes from the Guardian:

“I heard a lot of bad things when he arrived, that he was ‘not a defender.’ But we were sure we were signing a really good player we could lift up again to be one of the best defenders in Europe and, I hope, in the world. He has good technique, he’s strong, he starts our possession and has the personality to do this.”

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Luiz was a standout performer for a title-winning side with the third-best defensive record in the PL this season.

Conte and Luiz – 1, Everyone else – 0.