Since the day that the San Jose Earthquakes announced the signing of midfielder Simon Dawkins to a Designated Player contract, the team faced a roster compliance conundrum. Already on the roster were three DPs -- Chris Wondolowski, Matias Perez Garcia, and Innocent -- so the addition of Dawkins put the Quakes one over the maximum of three allowed by Major League Soccer.
Throughout the preseason, head coach Dominic Kinnear and general manager John Doyle were peppered with questions as to who of the four would either be let go or have his contract restructured in order to bring the team back into roster compliance. And when the MLS deadline for such compliance came and went on March 1, without an announcement from the Earthquakes, the questions persisted.
On Friday, three days past the deadline, all four DPs participated in Earthquakes training, and all four were said to be available for selection in San Jose's season opener on Sunday, March 6, against the Colorado Rapids. But the team's brass stayed mum, and team spokespersons were unable to provide any clarification. The club was roster compliant, but the DP dilemma was still fresh on people's minds. Something had to give.
And when MLS released its roster rules for the 2016 season, the mystery was solved: Chris Wondolowski had had his Designated Player contract bought down below the league's threshold amount of $457,500 through the use of General Allocation Money. Wondolowski was now considered a former DP by MLS.
Kinnear as recently as a week ago had promised that the Earthquakes would be roster compliant by the March 1 deadline, indicating that he was not interested in discussing who would and who would not be DPs to open the season.
"They're titles, by the way," said Kinnear, "and I understand why they are titles, and there are ways to get around the titles. People like titles; I just like players."
The primary way to get around the DP contract status, according to the roster rules published on MLSsoccer.com, is to buy down the salary budget charge of a DP contract below the threshold amount by spending General Allocation Money. Known colloquially as GAM, the discretionary funds serve as a way for MLS teams to comply with the league's "salary cap" through the buying down of expensive contracts. Just last week the Earthquakes acquired GAM from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for Targeted Allocation Money, another mechanism with which clubs buy down player contracts.
According to player salary information released by the MLS Players' Union, Wondolowski earned $675,000 in guaranteed compensation in 2015, a figure he was due to earn in 2016 as well. By spending the $200,000+ in GAM (and/or TAM) necessary to bring his contract number below $457,500, the Earthquakes no longer have to claim their team captain as a Designated Player.
The same salary figures show the following 2015 guaranteed contracts for the other two DPs on last year's roster: Innocent ($1,300,000) and Perez Garcia ($240,000). The salary of MPG is below the DP threshold, but when amortized transfer fees are taken into account, his annual budget charge is well above that figure. His contract could be targeted to be bought down eventually as a mechanism to open up another DP roster spot this summer or beyond. The contract information for Dawkins is unlikely to be released by the MLSPU until later this spring.
Will the loss of the DP label mean anything substantive to Wondolowski? Not very likely, as the 33-year-old Earthquakes talisman will continue in his role as team captain in 2016. Fifth on the all-time scoring list in MLS, Wondolowski (109) is closing in on the fourth spot currently held by Ante Razov (114). Third on the all-time list is DC United legend Jaime Moreno with 133, a total that Wondolowski could potentially reach this season, but likely would match in 2017 instead.