One of the things that makes MLS different from almost any other league is the concept of the Designated Player.
It started when MLS and the LA Galaxy wanted to bring David Beckham to the United States and wanted to pay him (and others like him) above and beyond the structure of the salary cap that had been in place. And while MLS has been forever changed by the DP and the players that it can attract, up until now, the Philadelphia Union haven’t used it as aggressively as other teams have.
That all changed on Friday with the signing of Marco Fabián.
Fabián is not only an exciting player who is still able to play at a high level, he’s also got the biggest name recognition of any DP the Union have signed. Not to take anything away from Bořek Dočkal, Maurice Edu, or Alejandro Bedoya, because all of them have been “big” signings by the club in their own way, but Fabián has been a legitimate star at Eintracht Frankfurt, a good club in one of the best leagues in Europe.
Even before going to the Bundesliga, Fabián was a star for Chivas de Guadalajara and Cruz Azul in Mexico’s Liga MX, and has made 42 appearances for the Mexican National Team, scoring nine goals for El Tri.
In the 2016-17 season, his last full season for Eintracht Frankfurt, he scored seven goals and had four assists in 24 league appearances, but his career was stalled in Germany due to back problems. However, he was fit enough to play for Mexico at last year’s World Cup in Russia, although his time out injured saw his club team replace him in the lineup and he’s not really been involved very much this season.
Coming to MLS is a chance for Fabián to once again be a star. Other Mexico internationals that have come to MLS, such as Carlos Vela, the Dos Santos brothers, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco have all arrived to great fanfare, and have been able to add some excitement both on and off the pitch.
Blanco is perhaps the highest profile of all Mexican players to have played in MLS, and he was able to draw casual fans to come out and watch the Chicago Fire. While Fabián doesn’t have the star power that Blanco had, his arrival is still a big deal for casual and non-casual soccer fans in the area.
I live over two hours from Philadelphia in lovely central PA, and I’ll be honest, it’s pretty hard for me to justify spending the time and money to travel to the area, get a hotel room, pay for parking and get tickets. It’s just too expensive when I can watch the Union underachieve on my computer via ESPN+. However, with Fabián now on the roster? I will probably make one or two games this summer, and if the team starts to do well, perhaps even a few more. I might even buy a jersey with his name on the back.
If Fabián can replicate the kind of form that made him one of the most exciting foreign players in the Bundesliga and a mainstay with the Mexican national team since 2012, then Philly fans are in for a treat. And who knows? If there are enough soccer fans like me in the area, perhaps the Union’s attendance will start to pick up, as casual or non-MLS fans make the drive and attend a match or two.