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Designated Player Strategies – Those that Came Before

Behold Nery Castillo - the face of DP futility.
Behold Nery Castillo - the face of DP futility.

We’re just a few short weeks from the transfer window opening up and we’re already knee deep in designated player (DP) rumors.  It seems like the Seattle Sounders have become the go-to source for rumors and players looking to negotiate a higher salary. 

While the rumors swirl around the Sounders other teams are already utilizing their open DP spots to bring in help to their struggling sides.  Toronto FC went out and signed an aging defensive midfielder and striker to fill out their three DP spots.  It will be interesting to see if these two new DPs will be able to turn around the fortunes of Toronto FC.  They’ll have their work cut out for them. 

The track record of DPs entering the league, especially those on the wrong side of 30, has been spotty to say the least.  There’s at least as many busts as there are clear successes.  In a previous article I took a look at the current crop of DPs and how they have performed against their salaries.  After the jump I’ll be looking at the designated players who came before and how they’ve fared in MLS.

You can see from the table below that there have been plenty of DPs who have come through the league to ply their trade.  The table below shows 21 DPs who have played in the league from 2007 to 2010.  Some of the players, such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto, were raised or dropped from DP status during their time in the league.  The DP Years number shows how many years they were actually DPs.  The total minutes, PP90 and salary/minutes calculations are based on their total contributions from 2007-2010 not just their time as DPs.

Player, Position, DP Years Average Salary
Average DP Salary
Total Minutes
Juan Pablo Ángel, F, 4
David Beckham, M, 3 1/2
 $6,500,000  $6,500,000  4,533 0.68  $5,735.72
Cuauhtémoc Blanco, F/CAM, 3  $2,759,086  $2,759,086  5,083 1.03  $1,628.42
Branko Bošković, CAM, 1/2  $516,200  $516,200  771 1.87  $669.52
Nery Castillo, WM, 1/2  $1,788.065  $1,788,065  487  0.0  $3,671.59
Denílson de Oliveira Araújo, WM, 1/2  $879,963  $879,963  606 0.30  $1,452.08
Landon Donovan, F/M, 4  $1,206,944  $1,206,944  9,310 1.33  $518.56
Luciano Emílio, F, 2 1/2
 $652,467  $758,857  6,778 1.20  $288.79
Alvaro Fernandez, M, 1  $300,000  $300,000  536 0.84  $559.70
Marcelo Daniel Gallardo, CAM, 1  $1,874,006  $1,874,006  1,161 0.85  $1,614.13
Geovanni, CAM, 1/2 -
 777 0.58 -
Julian de Guzman, CDM,1 1/2
 $1,336,948  $1,336,948  2,464 0.07  $1,085.19
Thierry Henry, F, 1/2  $5,600,000  $5,600,000  865 0.73  $6,473.99
Luis Ángel Landín, F, 1  $120,000  $120,000  796 0.79  $301.51
Claudio Lopez, F, 1  $373,333  $820,000  4,966 0.74  $225.53
Fredrick Lungberg, WM, 2  $1,314,000  $1,314,000  4,268 0.57  $615.75
Miguel 'Mista' Martinez, F, 1/2  $987,337  $987,337  544 0.17  $1,814.96
Rafael Márquez, D/CDM, 1/2  $5,544,000  $5,544,000  963 0.28  $5,757.01
Blaise Nkufo, F, 1/2  $480,000  $480,000 931 0.97  $515.57
Claudio Reyna, M, 1  $1,250,008  $1,250,008  2,184 0.12  $1,144.70
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, F/CAM, 1  $463,750  $775,000  8,182 1.18  $170.04

Key: Forward (F), Midfielder (M), Defender (D), Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM), Central Defending Midfielder (CDM), Wide Midfielder/Winger (WM). Players in italics are known to have transfer fees. 

Salary data comes from the MLS players union while the rest comes from the MLS website.  All salary data is based on guaranteed compensation.  The minutes played and PP90 stats are all based on the regular season and don’t included the MLS Cup playoffs, Open Cup or other games.   

For Reyna, Emilio and Landin there was salary data missing from the player’s union public lists so I made an educated guess based on previous year's salary.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough information on Geovanni’s salary to make even an educated guess.  I’m open to adding in that information if someone has a better source they can point me too.  Players in italics are known to have transfer fees that pushed them above the DP limit, but those fees have not been publicly disclosed. 

In the next section I’ve broken down the DPs into three broad categories based on their contributions on the field relative to their salaries.  It’s a subjective measure, but one that’s important for me as go about analyzing the DPs and how different teams are using their DP slots.  In the next article in the series I’ll be looking at the DPs and analyzing how the different teams around the league have fared with their DP strategies. 

For the groupings below I didn’t consider the impact they’ve had on increasing ticket sales, jersey sales and raising the profile of the club or league.  Of course, those are big considerations for any front office looking to sign a DP.  I’ve added in some comments on the marketing aspect of the DPs where it seemed relevant.  

Please feel free to argue the opposite case in the comments section especially if you’re a non-Sounders fan and happen to know a bit more about your team’s DPs.  Any insight you have will be helpful as I write the next article.

The Good

Landon Donovan: Donovan clearly stands above the rest in terms of impact on and off the field.  His PP90 is the highest of the DPs that have played significant minutes from 2007-2010.  His salary/minutes are also among the lowest of the big-budget DPs.  He also provides priceless exposure as the face of the LA Galaxy, MLS and the US National Team.    

Juan Pablo Ángel: Angel made an impact on the field during some pretty tough years for the New York Red Bulls.  He scored an amazing 58 goals while acting as the face of the franchise.  In my humble opinion, it’s a crying shame he was cut lose unceremoniously after the arrival of Henry and Marquez. 

Guillermo Barros Schelotto: Surprisingly, considering his high level of play for Columbus, Schelotto was only a DP for the 2009 season.  The 2008 season was probably his best where he racked up a league leading 19 assists.  He’s everything a team could hope for in an undervalued, but older, ‘budget conscious’ DP. 

Luciano Emílio: While David Beckham was receiving all the press as the Galaxy’s big DP signing in 2007 it was Emílio who was making the impact on the pitch.  In 2007 he would secure the Golden Boot with 20 goals as well as the MLS MVP title while leading DC United to the MLS Supporters Shield. 

The Others: Others I would include in the good category are Blanco, Fernandez, Henry, and Marquez.  Fernandez, Henry and Marquez probably shouldn’t be in this category just based on their performance in 2010, but all of them have stepped it up in 2011.  It takes about half a season to get used to physicality and odd officiating of MLS so we’ll give them all the benefit of the doubt for now.     

The Bad

David Beckham: The guy for whom the DP rule was created just falls short of the mark for me.  Injuries, and loan demands, really limited his time and effectiveness on the field.  He provided a giant marketing boost and raised the profile of the league, but it’s not enough to cover-up his meager PP90 and huge cost per minute on the field.

Fredrick Lungberg: The Sounders very first DP falls into much the same category as David Beckham.  He helped launch the franchise and for that we’ll always be grateful.  However, when you look at his impact on the field, and on the salary he commanded, you quickly realize he was overpaid.   

Branko Bošković: Boskovic is a guy who should’ve worked out so much better for DC United.  His play for the Montenegrian national team helped the tiny nation climb to the top 25 best national teams.  He has a great PP90, but hasn’t seen enough of the field to be called a success for DC United.  Unfortunately, just as Bošković was finding his form in MLS a torn ACL sidelined him for most of the 2011 season.

The Others: Other DPs that fell just short of the mark in my book are Gallardo, Geovanni, Julian de Guzman, Lopez and Nkufo.  Frankly I was torn about adding both Geovanni and Nkufo to ‘bad’ group.  Both came into MLS, adjusted quickly and gave a significant boost to a couple of teams fighting to get into the playoffs.  However, it’s hard to call them successes when playing only half a season.    

The Ugly
Lastly, we have the absolute flops.  These are the guys who made their teams worse by their very presence.  Luckily the Sounders haven’t had the misfortune of a genuine flop and I sincerely hope we never do. 

Nery Castillo: If Landon Donovan tops the list of DPs then Nery Castillo brings up the rear.  Never has one player been paid so much to do so little.  Over $1.7 million for a player who barely saw the pitch is an embarrassment for all involved.

Miguel 'Mista' Martinez: Running a close second for the worst DP in league history tag is the Toronto forward known as Mista.  Mista barely cracked 500 minutes for Toronto while bringing home just under a $1 million a year. 

Claudio Reyna: It’s unfortunate that Reyna’s time in MLS turned out so poorly.  He was an excellent player in his prime and the anchor of the US team during the late 90s and early 00s.  Unfortunately, by the time the New York Red Bulls signed him, injuries were a major concern and he was never the same player while in MLS.      

The Others: Others I would include in the ugly column are Denílson and Landín.  Both cost their teams plenty of cash for pretty limited time on the pitch.

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