MLS: Real Salt Lake signing Giuseppe Rossi a step backwards

Real Salt Lake are reportedly considering signing Giuseppe Rossi on a free transfer. Acquiring the 33-year-old, however, would be a major step back for MLS.

This offseason, Major League Soccer saw a very focused, purposeful and progressive shift in transfer approach: get younger.

Whereas in previous years clubs have looked to use the three Designated Player slots to sign big-name European stars who are nearing the end of their playing careers, this year, teams have seen the success of the likes of Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC and made a concerted effort to sign younger DPs.

As greater investment has swept through MLS at an unseen rate, several teams breaking their transfer records to add new talent, many of which were previously hesitant to spend at such a substantial level, and the fear of sales has been eradicated with a broader, wide-eyed perspective that now embraces the buy-and-sell market of the global sport, the shift towards younger players has been noticeable.

The Los Angeles Galaxy’s signing of Javier Hernandez is the only DP transfer involving a player over 30 — Hernandez is only 31, is replacing a 38-year-old, and represents a wholly unique case entirely. The next oldest DP signings are Yimmi Chara, Alan Pulido and Robert Beric, all 28.

Similarly, D.C. United signed 25-year-old Edison Flores, the New England Revolution acquired 23-year-old Adam Buksa, FC Cincinnati signed 26-year-old Yuya Kubo, while Lucas Zelarayan and Lucas Cavallini of Columbus and Vancouver respectively are only 27. MLS has made a concerted and successful effort to get younger, and it will improve the overall quality and competitiveness of the league.

Then there is Real Salt Lake. After losing 23-year-old Jefferson Savarino to Atletico Mineiro, per Sam Stejskal of The Athletic, Real Salt Lake are reportedly set to sign 33-year-old Giuseppe Rossi on a free transfer after he trained at their camp in Phoenix.

Rossi has been without a club since he left Genoa at the end of the 2017-18 season. He suffers from chronic knee problems, has never been able to look after his physical state, and now comes to a better-than-ever MLS in the dying embers of his career after not playing for a club for two years. Even if he costs nothing and will not take up a DP slot, it is not the most inspiring transfer.

The greatest problem with the signing is that MLS has moved on. It is still trying to shake the ‘retirement league’ mantra that it has been branded by, likely stenting its development. The introductions of players like Flores, Buksa, Zelarayan and Cavallini have both upped the quality of players in the league and lowered the average age of the DPs.

Signings like Rossi are the type of signings from MLS past. The new state of the league demands innovation, youthfulness, investment and growth. Rossi represents everything that counters that. He is an utterly backwards signing.

As MLS looks to establish itself as a global league, the signings get younger and more exciting. And then there is Giuseppe Rossi, a true and painful backwards step for both Real Salt Lake and the league more generally.