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December 24, 2008 at 5:15 PM

Solid take on designated players

Read this from goal.com….it raises good points and has good info. Mentions Freddie Ljungberg’s surgery as a possible deterrent to teams looking to sign a designated player.

Feliz Navidad to everyone.

Goal.commentary: It’s DP or Bust!

In the offseason, a handful of MLS clubs have been clamoring to add their own Designated Player. That isn’t the wisest team-building option, says Goal.com’s Zac Lee Rigg.

Several Major League Soccer clubs have made legitimate noises towards at least a desire to acquire a Designated Player prior to the start of the 2009 season. Houston Dynamo is looking at Luis Angel Landin to assuage the loss of Dwayne De Rosario to Toronto FC. Toronto, for its part, is looking to add a DP striker to compliment De Rosario, with head coach John Carver going as far as to say that he will leave the club if a DP is not brought in. As always, Chivas USA have been linked with high-profiled attackers from Mexico.

The news of Freddie Ljungberg’s injury should serve as a severe deterrent to those clubs, or at least encourage them to look a little deeper into the issue.

While excellent marketing boons, with the current budget constraints, a Designated Player simply isn’t economically viable if you also happen to want the team to be competitive.

Until the contract is renegotiated at the end of next season, teams are allotted $2.3 million to be divided among the twenty players on the roster. A designated player only sees $400,000 count towards that limit, with any excess wages being paid by the club and sponsors themselves, instead of MLS. That means a DP earns about a fifth of the entire wage budget. Trying to fill out the squad around a DP is too much of a stretch on resources as to be viable.

The Designated Player rule has been in place for two years now. In that time, only one team has reached the MLS Cup final with a DP, and that was the fairytale story of Red Bull New York in 2008 that featured Juan Pablo Angel. NY was a heavy underdog and left the final match with a runners-up medal.

Take a look at the fates of some of the other Designated Players.

Brazilian legend Denilson siphoned his hefty wage for a year before being ousted from FC Dallas.

Claudio Lopez couldn’t contribute physically when the team made their final push for the playoffs last year. He’s clearly talented, but too old to be worth his wages.

Marcelo Gallardo couldn’t replicate the form that has made him a legend in Argentina and France, mostly due to missing over half the season through injury. He and fellow-DP Luciano Emilio couldn’t guide heavy favorites D.C. United into the playoffs.

Claudio Reyna retired midseason due to injury, so Angel led NY into the final alone.

David Beckham has been a marketing masterstroke (he has paid back his five-year wage bill through shirt sales alone), but his LA Galaxy finished tied for last place overall in MLS in 2008.

The only one who could be considered an on-field success, aside from Angel, is Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire. With a solid squad already in place, Juan Carlos Osorio brought in the legendary Mexican playmaker midway through the 2007 season. His play pushed Chicago into the Conference Final this year. (By then Osorio had left and was busy using Angel to get into the Cup final). Blanco made the final three in voting for the 2008 MLS MVP. He drifts ahead of the solid core behind him, and creates that extra bit of magic and unpredictability that decides matches.

Even Blanco, however, is a gamble that needs to pay off quickly. The 35-year-old doesn’t have much left in his tank, and he and attacking partner Brian McBride, 36, won’t be able to contribute at the necessary level for longer than a year.

Even Angel has struggled with persistent injuries, and missed a large chunk of the first half of the season.

Much of the problem with designated player choices has come from teams choosing aging stars who can’t contribute all year long. Ljungberg’s injury before he played a single game for the club is a continuation of this.

With a clean wage budget, Seattle Sounders FC must have felt as if they had plenty of wiggle room. They will soon see how quickly $2 million evaporates. If their star Swede cannot stand the rigors of training, let alone matches, expect them to ship him out quickly.

The two most consistent teams of the past half decade, Houston and the New England Revolution, rely on a deep core of players who can contribute while shunning a designated player. Clubs should be looking to emulate that style of understated team-building, and adding a designated player as the cherry on top if and when the need be. Building around one, especially an aging, oft-injured one, isn’t prudent.

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