Why Giovani Dos Santos’ Arrival Could Change the MLS

In 2007, Los Angeles Galaxy made global news by introducing David Beckham to Major League Soccer.  The superstar’s acquisition from Real Madrid was not only an important upgrade in talent (in 98 games for the club he registered 18 goals, 40 assists and two MLS cups), but it also became a powerful marketing symbol that eventually changed the way other clubs purchased international players who exceeded their salary cap limitations.  The Designated Player rule – nicknamed the “Beckham rule” in its early days – upped every club’s ante, and players such as Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey and Frank Lampard followed Beckham’s trajectory.

Eight years later and the Galaxy are at it again, signing a star athlete who could once again shift the league’s status across the world and more importantly create another pathway for similar players to come play in North America.

FYI: I’m not talking about Steven Gerrard.

Giovani Dos Santos was purchased from Villareal and it has become the most expensive in franchise history. The club had to wait for the league’s new salary cap rules to come into place before they could acquire him for $7 million. The Galaxy already has three designated players (Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Steven Gerrard) but under the new guidelines, the club was able to use its “targeted allocation money” and lower Gonzalez’ own salary cap in order to get Dos Santos.        

Aside from the financial standpoint, Dos Santos represents a different type of DP who is arriving to the league. For starters, unlike Frank Lampard (37 years-old), Andrea Pirlo (36), Kaka (33) or the aforementioned Gerrard (35), who are all facing the harsh reality of decline, Dos Santos joins the Galaxy in his prime, at the ripe age of 26. Technically speaking, Dos Santos could feature in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

Gio is going to be a Kobe Bryant type of star for the Mexican soccer community.

“I think I came in the best moment in my career,” said Dos Santos, speaking to the club’s official website last month. “I work hard everyday and I hope to be a very important part of the team and win a lot of titles. I’m very happy with my decision.”

Despite his young age, however, Dos Santos’s resume reads like an aging veteran. The Galaxy have acquired a player who began his trade at Barcelona’s youth academy, made his national debut with Mexico at 18, and despite the obvious inconsistencies of his career, his experience of European soccer across four leagues will only help the young Mexican’s performances in the MLS. There is the argument that his arrival to the league could halt his development, as leaving La Liga is a step down in competitive talent. But this is precisely why Dos Santos’s transfer is so important; just like Beckham, his signing challenges other MLS clubs to pursue similar players of age and talent across the globe.  Major League Soccer may not be in the same category as the European game but its development and depth continues to evolve.

The most important of all points is that Dos Santos, adored by Mexican fans, will be representing Southern California, and most importantly the Mexican and Latino fan base of L.A Galaxy. Dos Santos is very much aware of this, “Since I started to play [soccer] I’ve wanted to be closer to my Mexican fans. I can’t wait to be closer to my family, my fans and my national team.”

As America’s cultural landscape changes and the Spanish-speaking community grows in stature, this is an opportunity for the most successful club in Major League Soccer to build the franchise around a Mexican international.

“I know for a fact more Mexicans will watch and go to more games. I myself will be driving 40 miles to watch him play,” says Chris Gastelum, a 36 year-old digital marketing consultant in Long Beach, CA and passionate Galaxy supporter. “Gio is going to be a Kobe Bryant-type of star for the Mexican soccer community. This is huge for us, this is Beckham part two.”

No one can predict how it will all work out or if Dos Santos will finally settle and find consistency within his own game at club level.  The opportunity, however, does present itself and L.A Galaxy and its newest member should take full advantage.