Thierry Henry is a bright, shiny Designated Player. Like most of these he has never won a trophy. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
This started out with different intent. I was going to push myself into a kind of humorous hyperbolic demand for huge name Designated Players signed in this Summer Transfer Window. The set-up was going to be an either/or situation revolving around shiny DPs or shiny trophies.
Here's the thing. It doesn't need to be an OR. It could be, or it couldn't. Shiny names don't assure trophies, that's certain. Just look at the history of MLS and you'll see this is easily and clearly true. The relationship between disclosed salary expenditures and points on the table is unique in this league. It just doesn't exist.
Still trophies don't necessarily attract DP level talent. The appeal of the CONCACAF Champions League is quite low compared to the UEFA version or the Copa Libertadores. The lesser of three major trophies (MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield and US Open Cup) don't really attract fans to the team. Winning the US Open Cup has great value to people who are already die-hard fans, but does little to expand the fanbase.
The type of DP that a vocal segment of Sounders fans want is the "name" player. They want a European with pedigree they recognize. This almost always means a player with a past on an EPL team, though Serie A and La Liga also count. One could also say that marketable names can come from Mexico and possibly have a history for/against the United States National team.
If Seattle had this kind of shiny thing would they get the type of shiny that you can put in a case and need to polish every week or so? No. Would this mean that the team would be more likely to win in the regular season? No.
It is a purely irrational desire. It is mirrored by the irrational desire for more wins this year than years previous. It is mirrored by a desire for new trophies, new history.
In 2009 the Seattle Sounders had a name DP - Freddie Ljungberg. His play when focused was strong. He was a deserved All Star. With him on the squad the team was a mere PK (his own miss) away from winning the Supporters' Shield. They still trophied. The Sounders were the best post-contraction expansion team in MLS' young history. They could not add a name over the summer window. The additions over that summer were; Lamar Neagle, Terry Boss, Leo Gonzalez and Mike Fucito. Significant moves, but certainly not glamorous. The team would go 5-4-4 -1 GD | 1.46 ppm after the window closed. It was good, but not great.
2010 and the Sounders had 1 DP entering the window and had already announced the coming of Blaise Nkufo. This was the first year with the Ljungberg Rule which allowed a team up to 3 Designated Players. Though the team would trade Freddie away during the summer, it would also add Alvaro Fernandez fresh from the World Cup. That season saw other additions when both Jeff Parke and Mike Seamon were added to the squad between the two windows. It was the most active in the team's short history. The 10-1-2 +12 GD | 2.46 ppm was impressive. Still, the Playoff history saw Seattle again as the underdog and loser. Only one major trophy would join the 09 Open Cup - its '10 brother.
Summer 2011 would be the story of failed attempts at DP signings. Neither of the two DPs on the roster were particularly famous outside of MLS circles. Fernandez was proving to be good and Montero was fully acquired via transfer fee and a greatly expanded salary. The Sounders fell short on Cisse and Tagoe. The only additions over the Summer were Amadou Sanyang (now with the Battery) and Sammy Ochoa. Still, post transfer window the team's record was 9-3-1 +11 GD | 2.15 ppm. Another playoff failure ended the MLS season and the Open Cup triplets rest in a trophy case.
In 3.5 years Seattle collected designated players, but only one was shiny. Two others were known to those who aggressively follow lesser leagues. One was found in a bathroom (Rosales' signing story) and the fifth was developed on the training pitch in Tukwila.
Now in 2012 the Sounders are a good team, though not great sitting at seventh by points per match.. They have the 9th best offense, the second best defense and their advanced metrics put them sixth. They can clearly improve. Adding players is one way to do this. Another is getting healthy (Gspurning should return this weekend). A third is to improve tactically (no diamond, better backline communication). A fourth is to have players regress to their natural level, because the underperformers greatly outnumber the overperformers (who are all young).
Sidereal's projection system expects only 20 points in the final 14 matches, all post window. The average the team has over the past three seasons would put them at 28 points in that stretch. Somewhere in between seems likely due to health and the tweaks listed above. This year's middle ground in MLS is pretty shallow. There lots of good teams, lots of a bad teams and very few average ones (Rapids and Crew being most averagey). Point totals between 51 and 59 are normally great.
That's without a shiny thing added - just a good to great regular season. Still there's a clamour for a name DP (none are rumored, it would be hard to call Verdu or Tiffert names). There's a clamour for a new trophy. Many people want both. There is a vocal segment that say without one or both Adrian Hanauer should be voted out in this year's exercise in Democracy in Sports.
Here's the thing. We all want shiny things. They aren't mutually exclusive. DP additions can mean trophies or they can be massive failures (see Red Bull with Reyna, Angel, Henry, Marquez and now Cahill with zero trophies ever). No team has more trophies than Seattle in its MLS era, though the LA Galaxy have more significant ones. LA is also the only team better by total points earned in that same stretch.
Claiming that team regularly fails to sign DPs is wrong. Claiming that they regularly fail to win when it matters is also wrong. The desire for more is not. And that irrational desire is what is fueling bold statements now. Bold statements that likely won't make sense in December.