A Closer Look at Designated Player Strategies (Eastern Conference)

Milton Caraglio, the New England Revolution's first designated player, smiles after scoring his second goal against the New York Red Bulls. He'll need to stay healthy to make the Revolution's first designated player signing a success.

Recently, I wrote an article looking at the DP strategies for five MLS teams from the Western Conference. In this article I follow up with five teams from the Eastern Conference to give us an idea of how they are approaching DPs. If you're interested in exploring the DP rule further, there are also articles on DP salaries and production from the first half of the season and the track record of DPs from previous seasons. You  can also read about the latest DP rule changes designed to encourage younger players.   

After the jump I take a look at five teams in the East starting with the high-priced, but underperforming New York Red Bulls. Also included are analysis of the Chicago Fire, DC United and Toronto FC. For kicks, I also look at the first DP signing for the New England Revolution.         

New York Red Bulls Designated Player Marketing and You!
Previous DPs: Juan Pablo Angel (F) & Claudio Reyna (MF)
Current DPs: Thierry Henry (F), Rafael Márquez (D) & Frank Rost (GK)

The New York Red Bulls (NYRB) are a team, like the Los Angeles Galaxy, where the goals of the ownership group have driven the team’s use of the DP slot more than the team’s needs on the field. The main goal of RBNY is to connect global icons in the soccer world to Red Bull energy drinks (the team is owned by Austrian energy drink company Red Bull GmbH). On the field results take a back seat to marketing. Like the Galaxy, they’ll continue to make big signings for Aging Superstars until the profile of the league rises to the level where they can start signing global superstars in their peak years.

However, in fairness to NYRB, they’ve shown more willingness to try new things. Probably the most obvious difference is their signing of defensive players like Marquez and Rost to DP slots. The Rost signing was a signing based entirely on the team's need to shore up their goalkeeping. However, Rost’s persistent injuries have actually left the club worse off than before. His signing is most likely a one-off that won’t impact the NYRB's strategies for DPs moving forward. I fully expect their next DP to be an Aging Superstar just leaving the Euro leagues.                    

Chicago FireMexican Dreaming
Previous DPs: Cuauhtémoc Blanco (F), Freddie Ljungberg (MF) & Nery Castillo (F)
Current DPs: Pavel Pardo (MF)

Chicago has been pretty active in using their DP slot up until very recently. Their first signing, Blanco, came under previous owners AEG and was focused on building inroads in the Latino community and cementing the team in its new downtown stadium. The team tried to build on the success of the Blanco signing in 2010 with striker Nery Castillo. Instead of a young Mexican superstar they signed a temperamental striker with plenty of baggage. The move was a giant bust on and off the field. The short signing of Freddie Ljungberg from Seattle wasn't very successful either.

Chicago has all the components needed to be strong player on the international transfer market despite the mixed success of their previous DPs. The team is in the third largest market in the US and has been successful at scouting young talent. Interim coach and GM Frank Klopas has been fairly active in acquiring young talent such like Marco Pappa, Cristian Nazarit and Orr Barouch. Klopas recently signed another marketable Mexican designated player in Pável Pardo. I would expect further DP signings during the off-season once Klopas has settled on a permanent coach for the team.

DC UnitedSearching for Former Glory
Previous DPs: Luciano Emilio (F) & Marcelo Gallardo (MF)
Current DPs: Branko Bošković (MF)

DC United is one of the most successful MLS teams despite a recent run of mediocrity. Luciano Emilio was a key part of the clubs early success and was rewarded with a relatively modest DP contract. By all accounts Emilio was a DP success and is still remembered fondly by the DC United faithful. Injury problems turned the other two DP signings into busts for DC United. Both Gallardo and Bošković are attacking midfielders that came to DC with very good records at the club and national level. Gallardo, with a salary of $1.87 million, was one of the highest paid DPs in the league and his signing financially strapped the DC United organization. A sports hernia ended his one season in MLS early. Bošković is out for this season due to a ACL injury and its doubtful he'll remain with the team.

Finding a new home for the club, rather than signing a big name DP is the number one priority for DC. The current owner, William Chang, has been actively seeking to bring in new partners with deep pockets to help make a stadium deal happen. He's been very unsuccessful so far. Probably the best thing going for DC United right now is their academy system. Probably the best strategy for DC Untied going forward is using their DP slots to hold onto young talent like Andy Najar and Bill Hamid. Until the stadium situation in DC is resolved the team will remain a net provider of talent on the international transfer market rather than one that is bringing in new DPs. 

Toronto FC Finally Focusing on the Field
Previous DPs: Mista (F)
Current DPs: Julian de Guzman (MF), Torsten Frings (MF), Danny Koevermans (F)

Until very recently the Toronto front office was a clear leader in how not to use designated players. Julian de Guzman, while a very skilled holding midfielder, was never a good fit either for the style of soccer Toronto played or for the expectations that come with being a highly paid DP. The misuse of de Guzman at TFC is probably one of the clearest reasons why an MLS club needs a strong identity. Probably the biggest mistake de Guzman has ever made, besides going to TFC, was convincing former Deportivo La Coruña teammate Mista to sign with Toronto. However, that mistake is dwarfed by general manger Mo Johnston actually signing him.  

DP strategy looks to be improving greatly under current coach and general manager Aron Winter. Winter is instilling a clear, consistent style based on technical skill and controlling possession. The new style fits the skills of de Guzman. Also, Winter has been aggressively using the international transfer market to bring new talent that fits his vision for the team. The signings of Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans aren’t flashy, but they both clearly fit the system Winter is using. I expect the two signings will look better next season after Winter has a full offseason to reset the Toronto FC roster.           

New England RevolutionOh Dear God, Where Do I Start With These Guys?
Previous DPs: None
Current DPs: Milton Caraglio

Lastly, and very much the least, is the New England Revolution. By most measures the Revolution should be one of the leaders in MLS. They’re located in the 10th largest metro area filled young, sports-loving professionals (the core driver of MLS 2.0 success). Despite the demographic advantages owner Robert Kraft has been notoriously combative with supporter's groups and rarely invests in the team outside what is required by the league. However, roster expansion, additional DP slots and incentives for young DPs are forcing laggard teams like the Revolution to finally start using their DP slots. During the latest window they went out and signing a promising young striker named Milton Caraglio. Sounds like they’re learning from teams like the Sounders and Dallas right?

Not quite. Caraglio is not an unknown trying to catch the eye of scouts in the big leagues. He’s already caught their eye and they’ve declined his services. West Ham passed on a 5 million pound deal when the young striker failed a physical. Knee issues have also kept Caraglio from earning a cap with the Argentinean national team. This signing doesn’t sound like the fruits of extensive and expensive foreign scouting. Its bargain hunting in the international transfer market and fits the M.O. of Robert Kraft and the Kraft Group. However, this might turn out very well for the Revolution if Caraglio stays healthy and fully recovers from his knee issues.

Edited to include Pável Pardo.

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