>Monday Lunch: Ranking the Designated Players

Posted: December 6, 2010 in mls
Tags: , , , , ,

>By Evan Ream

With MLS Cup 2010 over with, I feel like it is finally time to look back on one of the biggest league changes that has ever occurred in MLS. I’m talking about the “Designated Player Rule.” For the first 11 years of MLS, the maximum salary that any player could be signed to (aside from a few exceptions) was around $300,000. This made sense from a fiscal standpoint as MLS didn’t have enough money to spend any more than that, however it didn’t help bring any more star power to the league.
 
After a decade of MLS, the owners began to feel like the league was becoming stale and thus created the so-called “Beckham Rule,” under which any player could be signed for any amount of money, though he would count as a maximum salary under the salary cap. This rule was created to sign marquee players that the league never would have been able to sign before. Although a Designated Player has yet to win an MLS Cup, they have undeniable changed the way the league works. From busts like Denílson to great successes like Juan Pablo Ángel, I am going to rank all the designated players from worst to best.
 
Before I get to the list, I want to describe the criteria that I’m working with. First of all, I’m only going to consider DP’s that originally signed with the league as DP’s (so I’m disregarding Landon Donovan, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and Luciano Emilio). Furthermore, I’m only going to include players who have spent the majority of their MLS career as a designated player (so Claudio López is excluded). When I cut those players out of the equation, 17 players remain. I am going to judge those 17 players on not only goals and assists, but also contributions to their team weighed against their salary (according to Wikipedia) and any notable contributions to the team (such as winning trophies or setting franchise records). So, without any more build up, here is my list:
17. Nery Castillo, Chicago Fire 2010 – present, $1,400,004 Regular Season: 8 Games/0 Goals/0 Assists Playoffs: 0/0/0
Among Designated Players, there have been some amazingly huge busts, and Nery Castillo is the perfect example of one. He arrived in Chicago with great fanfare and huge promise, and all that happened was that the Fire got worse and didn’t make the playoffs while Castillo looked out of shape while not contributing a goal or assist. With the tight budgets in MLS, you can’t afford (both figuratively and literally) to spend almost $1.5 million on a player that does essentially nothing in eight games. It remains to be seen what will happen to Castillo next year, but I can’t imagine that the Fire would want to retain him unless they completely restructured his contract which I’m sure he is less than willing to do.
 
16. Mista, Toronto FC 2010, $968,736 RS: 9/0/1 P: 0/0/0 Notable Accomplishments: Canadian Championship (2010)
The former Spanish international was recently cut from Toronto (a team in need of good forwards) without scoring a league goal. He was pretty much just as disappointing as Castillo, but he gets higher marks for winning a trophy (though not a major one), and providing a goal in the CONCACAF Champions League as well as an assist in league play. Yes, Toronto spent about one million for a goal and an assist.
 
15. Denílson, FC Dallas 2007, Salary Figures Not Available RS: 7/1/0 P: 2/0/0
Denílson only ranks higher than the previous two players do because his team actually made the playoffs and he actually scored a league goal (even if it was a penalty). This being said, Denílson was a giant disappointment as he consistently did nothing in games and disappeared for giant stretches. His team actually almost made the Western Conference Final; they were up 2-0 with 45 minutes left, but then Arturo Alvarez got a dumb red card and they lost to Houston 4-2. Just think, Denílson could have been below average for at least one more playoff game! The fans were robbed by Alvarez.
 
14. Luis Landín, Houston Dynamo 2009-2010, SFNA RS: 16/2/3 P: 3/0/0
I think Luis Landín qualifies as the only MLS field player that has been fatter than Andy Williams. Landín showed bits of skill in his two seasons, scoring two goals and contributing three assists, but it was ultimately just not enough as he could never really get into shape or adjust to the physical play of MLS. On a side note, I think I saw Landín in a video game the other day.
 
13. Branko Bošković, DC United 2010 – present, $380,000 RS: 13/0/0 P: 0/0/0
I don’t think we have really gotten a chance to fairly assess Bošković yet. Yes, he hasn’t really done much in MLS play, but he was on one of the worst teams in league history last year. With DC adding Dax McCarty and presumably getting healthier, we should get a better assessment of Bošković next year. He has played well for Montenegro during his international breaks, which would suggest that he can be a quality player in MLS, but I think we need to wait and see for this player.
 
12. Claudio Reyna, New York Red Bulls 2007-2008, SFNA RS: 27/0/3 P: 2/0/0
Claudio Reyna is the second best USMNT player of all time, behind Landon Donovan; unfortunately, his great international career didn’t really translate into MLS. Reyna was a good player during his brief stint, but he could never stay healthy. Reyna was simply too old to play on turf consistently. His time in MLS was a sad ending for such an accomplished player.
 
11. Julian De Guzman, Toronto FC 2009 – present, $1,670,796 RS: 30/0/2 P: 0/0/0 NA: Canadian Championship (2009, 2010)
Julian De Guzman hasn’t really been an amazing two way midfielder like we all thought he would when he first entered the league, but he hasn’t really had much help either. I just don’t understand how a player can go from starting in La Liga to being an average MLS player. In fact, if I had to pick one word to describe De Guzman thus far in MLS, I would pick “mediocre.” De Guzman simply hasn’t been the amazing passer that he can be. He has definitely shown flashes, but has to play consistently good soccer.
 
10. Marcelo Gallardo, DC United 2008, SFNA RS: 15/4/3 P: 0/0/0
Gallardo was an interesting player in MLS. On one hand, he couldn’t stay healthy and he didn’t really fit into the DC team like the player he replaced, Christian Gomez. On the other hand though, he scored some amazing goals. Gallardo was a talented player who would go on to star for River Plate after MLS, but I just feel like he didn’t really fit into the league and didn’t live up to the expectations that United fans had of him after they traded Christian Gomez.
 
9. Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls 2010 – present, $5,600,000 RS:11/2/3 P: 1/0/0
So far, Henry has pretty much done nothing on the field to help New York as he has been struggling with injuries. He has contributed just two goals in 11 games for the Red Bulls, but I still think his signing has been a success. Henry is just two years removed from starting for a Champions League winning team. He is clearly still a quality player. Once he settles in to MLS, he should be one of the greatest the league has ever seen. That being said, to sign him for four more years is a coup for the league.
 
8. Geovanni, San Jose Earthquakes 2010, SFNA RS: 12/1/3 P: 3/0/0
Geovanni was recently cut by the Earthquakes, but I honestly have no idea why. Although it doesn’t show in the numbers, he was instrumental in the late season run for the Quakes. Before Geovanni arrived, the offense was stale, and lacking a playmaker, but once he did arrive, Chris Wondolowski went off and scored a ton of goals, as defenses could no longer focus on him. I have to think that the only reason San Jose cut Geovanni was a contract dispute, because he was undoubtedly a success on the field.
 
7. Álvaro Fernández, Seattle Sounders FC 2010 – present, $300,000 RS: 12/2/1 P: 2/0/0 NA: US Open Cup (2010)
Álvaro Fernández is the lowest earning member of any Designated Player on the list and therefore one of the list’s shrewdest signing. Fernández got decent playing time at the last World Cup for Uruguay during their run to the semi-finals. For whatever reason, he came off the bench last year because Sanna Nyassi was in favor, but he still positively influenced nearly every game he entered. In fact, Seattle did absolutely nothing in the playoffs without him on the field. Fernández still has to adjust to the league, but the start to his MLS career looks promising.
 
6. Rafael Márquez, New York Red Bulls 2010 – present, $5,560,000 RS: 10/1/1 P: 2/0/0
Rafael Márquez would and should be higher on this list if it wasn’t for a terrible playoff performance in both legs against the Earthquakes this year. Márquez is one of the best players in the league at this moment and he has certainly been good for New York, but he was just terrible in the playoffs. The fact that I have him this high on the list still though shows how good of a player he is. Look for Márquez to be one of the best players in the league next year.
 
5. Blaise Nkufo, Seattle Sounders FC 2010 – present, $480,000 RS: 11/5/0 P: 2/0/0 NA: US Open Cup (2010)(null)
I love the way Nkufo plays. At 35 years of age, you would think that he would just be your average target forward who finished off good service in the box, but this was not the case. If you look at the second goal in his game against the Crew where he scored a hat trick, he beats a solid (and much younger) player in Brian Carroll with ease. Nkufo is a smart and intelligent player who still obviously has physical gifts. He scored five goals in just 11 games for the Sounders; I can’t wait to see what he can do over an entire season.
 
4. Freddie Ljungberg, Seattle Sounders FC 2009-2010, Chicago Fire 2010 – present, $1,300,000 RS: 52/4/19 P: 2/0/0 NA: US Open Cup (2009) MLS Best XI (2009)
Despite constant issues with management, Ljungberg has been one of the best players in MLS the last two year. He has constantly been an attacking threat, providing nearly 20 assists in two years in the league. People may complain about his diving, but he has always been quality on the field, no matter which team he was playing for. There really isn’t a lot to say about Freddie, just that he has been great on the field and a great ambassador for soccer in the United States.
 
3. David Beckham, LA Galaxy 2007 – present, $6,500,000 RS: 48/9/16 P: 7/0/3 NA: Western Conference Champion (2009) Supporter’s Shield (2010)
People may complain about what David Beckham has been doing the last two seasons, by getting loaned out to AC Milan in a last ditch attempt to make the England World Cup team, but you can’t really blame him for wanting to play at the highest level. Beckham has done something that no other player up to his point had done in the league; he made MLS relevant which is more important than any amount of games that he has skipped. The funny thing is that when he actually has been on the field and playing, he has played really well. Beckham was probably the Galaxy’s best player this year in the playoffs and he scored two key goals in order to push them to the Supporter’s Shield. Beckham should be back next year, which would be a huge boost for the Galaxy as he is one of the best players in the league.
 
2. Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Chicago Fire 2007-2009, SFNA RS: 62/16/26 P: 9/1/1 NA: MLS Best XI (2008)
I really hate putting Blanco this high on the list because I am not a fan of his personality, but he was quality when he played in MLS. So far, in 15 years, he is the only Mexican to ever make the MLS Best XI. He was an amazing player in his three years, not just for the goals and assists he provided (which were plentiful), but for his ability to maintain possession and switch the point of attack. His teams never made a cup final, but they were some of the better and more exciting teams during the last part of the decade in MLS.
 
1. Juan Pablo Ángel, New York Red Bulls 2007-2010, $1,620,000 RS: 102/58/14 P: 8/3/0 NA: MLS Best XI (2007), Western Conference Champion (2008), NY Red Bulls All Time Leading Goal Scorer (58)
This isn’t even close. There is Juan Pablo Ángel and then there is everyone else. Ángel may be the best signing in MLS history for the countless goals that he has provided. At times (especially 2009), Ángel was the only bright spot for New York on the field. He gave a cursed franchise hope for four years, as well as great regular season and playoff memories. Ángel’s contract was recently not picked up by New York, which I think may be one of the biggest mistakes New York has ever made (which is saying something). At the age of 35, Ángel still has it and another team will pick him up and pay him Designated Player money without hesitation.
 
As you can see, many of these players have been busts. It seems as if, in most cases, teams were better off signing lesser-known players for a lot cheaper than Designated Players, but as we are only four years into the rule, it remains to be seen what different expensive players can do. This rule has definitely been a positive as most of these players would have never been in the league without it. I look forward to the coming years to see what exciting players the league can sign (or resign in the case of Álvaro Saborío and Fredy Montero) to Designated Player contracts.

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