To DP or not to DPSince the Designated Player Rule went into effect, MLS clubs have been forced to choose their philosophy to league success
by Chris Enger | Friday, February 03, 2012
As the MLS season approaches the debate begins again regarding the signing of Designated Players. Are they worth the money?
Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts came out this week and stated that RSL was not looking for another Designated Player and that they have one already, in Alvaro Saborio, and they’re not looking for another.
Sidenote: The fact that Saborio is considered a Designated Player is somewhat laughable since his salary is $305,000 and it was the money used to pay for his transfer fee that put him over the Designated Player threshold.
Checketts continued, “the notion of us going out and getting [Thierry] Henry or [Rafa] Márquez, or our payroll going to $15 million is just not in the cards. It’s not in the cards at this point because between building the stadium, buying the franchise, the operating losses – the owners have already contributed a significant amount of capital.”
Real Salt Lake won the 2009 MLS Cup without having a Designated Player in the lineup. In fact, their payroll that season was significantly smaller than it is today. Their highest paid player at the time couldn’t play most of that championship match after colliding knees with David Beckham, and yet the team still managed to win.
Since the inception of the DP Rule in 2007 there have been 39 Designated Players leaguewide. But it took until the 2011 season before fans saw the first MLS Cup hoisted by a Designated Player. That team was the LA Galaxy and they “only” had three DPs on the team.
The odds of a team signing a Designated Player and winning the MLS Cup will improve now that rules have changed to include younger players and more DPs are being signed across the league. Checketts even mentioned in that same interview the possibility of making Argentinian playmaker Javier Morales a Designated Player later in his career.
The Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo in November. That Dynamo side, led by head coach Dominic Kinnear, has a history of fielding squads with a strong core of better than average players – skipping the superstar route. Using that egalitarian philosophy, Houston has managed to win two MLS Cups, reached the finals and semi-finals and have only missed out on the playoffs once since their inception in 2006. If you include the relocated San Jose Earthqaukes’ records to those as well, which was mostly the same squad and ethos under Frank Yallop, the dynastic Dynamo non-star philosophy looks to be MLS’ most successful.
Historically, teams with a strong nucleus that add just the right amount of role players have gone on to dominate the league. That may change though as the new Young Designated Player Rule takes effect in the 2012 season.
The main ingredient young DPs add to a team though is athleticism and a desire to win. Most of the Designated Players signed by MLS clubs in the past have already proven themselves abroad and do not seem to play with the same urgency that made them so desired by league owners in the first place.
The crux for owners and managers will be to find the right balance of veterans, young players and maybe splurging on a Designated Player without running up large debts that would be difficult to pay off.
And finding that right mix may prove to be an even more difficult task for MLS coaches going forward, especially since it’s so much easier now for management to sign a high profile name and sell truckloads of jerseys.