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State of MLS: A League-wide review of Designated Players

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With MLS action on pause and the summer transfer window on the horizon, let us now take a moment to review the state of MLS rosters as they stand today. Specifically, focusing on designated players. Which clubs have already met their DP capacity? Which clubs have open DP slots?

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Tim Howard drinks your milkshake, he drinks it up.
Tim Howard drinks your milkshake, he drinks it up.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The dust has settled on the first 16 weeks of the season. We now find ourselves in the middle of a rare hiatus from league play. With the secondary transfer window only three short weeks away, now is as good a time as any to take an inventory of MLS' current designated players as well as forecast incoming/outgoing designated players. Before we delve into the deep end that is MLS roster rules and regulations, let's first get on the same page with some key terms:

Designated Player (DP) - The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose total salary and acquisition costs exceed the constraints of the club salary cap ($3,660,000 per team). Clubs bear a financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player's budget charge ($457,000 for senior DPs; $200,000 for players 21-23 years old; $150,000 for players 20 and younger).


In 2016, a Designated Player that is 24-years-old or older during the league year will carry the Maximum Budget Charge ($457,500) unless the player joins his club after the opening of the Secondary Transfer Window, in which case his budget charge will be $228,750. For more information, see roster rules and regulations.

Allocation Money (AM) - Allocation Money is essentially a money credit mechanism created and issued by the league which enable teams to reduce the cap hit of player salaries. Let's use a hypothetical situation. Let's say the Sounders wanted to sign Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza for $600,000/year, but only had $400,000 of space on the team budget. They could use $200,000 of AM to buy Rubens' cap hit down to fit the Sounders' team budget. For more information, see roster rules and regulations.

Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) - A subset of Allocation Money. Targeted Allocation Money can only be used on players making more than the maximum salary-cap hit (currently $457,000) but not more than $1 million (or $1.5 million for midseason signings). For more information, see this primer.

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Chicago Fire

Designated Players: Accam, Igboananike, Gilberto; no vacancy... for now

Likelihood of summer moves: Moderate

Club status: Worst start ever!

For the Fire, that's saying something. The absence of the club's highest paid player (even when he is on the pitch), is hard to ignore for Fire fans and management alike. Days after news broke that Gilberto had begun a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons, an internet rumor broke about the Fire shopping the Brazilian forward. When asked about buying Gilberto's contract, Chicago's general manager Nelson Rodriguez had this to say: "Every option always has to be on the table. At some point if we can't get him to be productive and scoring goals for us, we have to look at anything that is available to us or that we create for ourselves." Historically, the Fire have had rotten luck with their DPs, and their postseason ambitions have suffered as a result. Maybe this summer will be different?

Extra reading: Fire shopping Gilberto

Colorado Rapids

Designated Players: Gashi, Doyle, (Juan Ramirez on loan); no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: 100%

Club status: Remember Leicester City?

Tim Howard is set to join Colorado in July to make the Rapids' already league-best defense even sturdier. Let that sink in. With Howard in and Ramirez out, Colorado's DP slots are full. It's hard to point out any deficiencies with Colorado, so I won't even try. Why would they make any substantial summer acquisitions? Go ahead, point to a glaring weakness. Didn't think so.

Extra Reading: Welcoming Tim Howard


Columbus Crew

Designated Players: Higuain; two open DP slots

Likelihood of summer moves: High - Very High

Club status: Adjusting to a Post-Kei world.

After the PK scuffle heard 'round the league, Columbus said goodbye to Kei Kamara when they sent him packing to New England. You couldn't have written a better script for what followed. Next man up, who just happened to be named Kamara, scored a hat trick which showcased the Norweigan attacker's diverse skill set (something Kei never achieved). In a post-Kei world, the yellow and black find themselves with two vacant DP slots. What's more, they have previously been connected with Colombia's national treasure: Radamel Falcao. Watch for Columbus Crew SC to make some noise during the secondary transfer window to fill the void that Kei left.

Extra Reading: Kamara's void will force Crew SC to regroup

D.C. United

Designated Players: Espindola; two DP spots open

Likelihood of summer moves: Very High

Club status: Hangin' on.

DC United are off to a rocky start in the eastern division, partially due to a few key injuries, and partially due to a roster that lacks firepower up front. Despite the punchless football being played in DC, the club finds itself in the playoff mix. 31 year old Espindola is United's solitary DP. Last season, United DP striker Eddie Johnson was forced to retire due to a chronic heart condition. Recently, the black and red signed Alhaji Kamara on a free from Norway. Wouldn't you know it, Alhaji comes to Washington with a heart condition of his own, but fortunately has been cleared by physicians to play. Alhaji did not sign as a DP, however, which leaves DC with two open DP slots heading into July. To keep their playoff hopes alive, look for United to make a splash signing or two.

Extra Reading: Zlatan is not coming to DC United.

FC Dallas

Designated Players: Castillo, Diaz, Gruezo; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Very Low

Club status: Full speed ahead.

Dallas does not have any designated player spots open, nor does it look like any of them will be vacant any time soon. Castillo and Diaz are doing what they do best, and have recently added Barrios to the mix. Barrios is doing his best impression of a designated player, scoring 15 goals since signing with the club 11 months ago. Then there's Gruezo, their third DP. Just think vintage Ozzie Alonso. Have you heard the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it?" Well the only thing broke in Dallas is their attendance record. Maybe they should hire a hometown marketing wiz. I might know a guy...

Extra Reading: Gruezo healthy for Copa America

Houston Dynamo

Designated Players: Erick "Cubo" Torres, DaMarcus Beasley; open DP spot

Likelihood of summer moves: Moderate - High

Club status: Off the rails.

Houston finds itself in dead last in the west with the lowest points per game statistic. Owen Coyle recently jumped ship and has since landed on his feet in England with the Blackburn Rovers. One of the club's bright spots, 34-year old left back DaMarcus Beasley is Houston's only designated player that is a lock to start every match. Torres on the other hand, has only appeared in 7 matches, producing a lackluster 0 goals and 1 assist through a measly 224 minutes. This would be a good time to shop Torres around or buy his contract out if necessary. For Houston, a hard restart may be in order, and I can't imagine Torres is the type of foundational player the organization wants to build around.

Extra Reading: Coyle lands job with Blackburn Rovers

Los Angeles Galaxy

Designated Players: Keane, Dos Santos, Gerrard; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Low - Moderate

Club status: What's my age again? (Nobody likes you when you're 33)

Through 15 games, LA leads the league in goals scored (27), and goal differential (11). So what's the deal with all the "Stevie G is homesick" and "incompatible roster" scuttlebutt? It's difficult to imagine a move this summer that would make Los Angeles a better, deeper club than they already are. That said, do not make the mistake of thinking the Galaxy are going to stand on the sideline during the secondary transfer window. It is Los Angeles Galaxy, after all. They helped inspire the Beckham DP rule of 2007, why not the Ibra DP rule of 2016?

Extra Reading: Stevie G on the outs? see also, Ibra to LA?

Montreal Impact

Designated Players: Drogba, Piatti, Lucas Ontivero; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Low

Club status: Drogbasaurus Rex

Montreal is in third place in the east with all three designated players contributing to the Bleu-Blanc-Noir's success. The only snag? Ontivero is a loaned DP from Turkish giant Galatasaray, and lately Bologna's brass has been eyeing the winger. It's within the realm of possibility that Montreal loses and replaces Ontivero all in the same window, but I kinda doubt it. Barring any major injury, the Impact looks capable of another MLS Cup run. Count on it.

Extra Reading: Bologna eyeing Ontivero

New England Revolution

Designated Players: Kamara, Goncalves, Kouassi; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Low

Club status: Lights, Kamara, Action.

Like much of the east, New England finds itself in the playoff hunt despite playing some truly uninspiring soccer. The good news? Goal-scoring help has arrived in the form of 2015 golden boot runner-up Kei Kamara. The Copa America break might be just what the doctor ordered for Kamara and his new club to get on the same page. Let's also not forget about Xavier Kouassi, DP central midfield destroyer out of Ivory Coast that the Revolution signed in the offseason. On February 7, just six days after signing a big contract with the Revolution, the Ivorian tore his ACL while finishing out the season with his former club in the Swiss Super League. If his injury is anything like Torres', New England may have to wait until next season before getting all three designated players on the field.

Extra Reading: Revolution go all-in to get Kamara

New York City FC

Designated Players: Pirlo, Lampard, Villa; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Low

Club status: Feast or famine.

Some days are better than others for NYCFC. When Pirlo hits a perfectly weighted longball to Villa who buries it with a single wave of his boot, life is good. But you have to balance that with the 0:7 drubbing they took in front of their home fans by the hands of their "rivals." What can you say about NYCFC? Their central midfield is a mess. Pirlo and Lampard are a combined 74 years old, and offer no defensive cover. If Lampard were to walk away from NYCFC with his tail pinned between his legs, I think he would have done so by now. The harsh reality is that NYCFC are stuck with their lead-footed Euro stars of yesteryear (not you, Villa, you're cool.) for at least another season. Don't hold your breath for any big summer signings this season. At least there's Kwadwo Poku and Tommy Mac?

Extra Reading: Lampard: Worst Signing in MLS History

New York Red Bulls

Designated Players: Wright-Phillips, Veron; open DP spot

Likelihood of summer moves: Low - Moderate

Club status: Red Bull Wright-Phillips gives you wings.

After their back line was obliterated by injuries early on, RBNY has since "Wrighted the ship" (pun intended) by going 5-1-1. The connection between Kljestan and Wright-Phillips has been truly remarkable the past several weeks. Looking ahead, it's worth noting that a few key 'nuts and bolts' type players are getting a bit long in the tooth. It's possible a late DP signing gets made to bolster the New Jersey side for a playoff push in November. Possible, but not probable. Right now the chemistry for RBNY is just right. Introducing a new piece now would risk disturbing the force. There have been no recent transfer rumors, just a thing about Jermain Defoe (see below).

Extra ReadingJermain Defoe to New York? Probably not, but maybe.

Orlando City FC

Designated Players: Kaká, Rochez, Rivas; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Moderate

Club status: Growing pains.

Orlando has all 3 DP slots filled. Kaká was signed in 2014 in the club's inaugural season. Since, the Brazilian has brought what a DP should bring to a team in spades: leadership, goals, and fanfare. Róchez and Rivas were signed a year later, and have both failed to live up to their elite DP titles. Rivas has been utilized mostly as an impact sub, having scored one goal through less than 300 minutes. Róchez missed preseason due to injuries, and has since been catching sporadic minutes with Orlando's USL team. Clearly, OCSC is not getting the most out of their designated players. If Orlando wants to make the playoffs this season, they would be well-advised to buy Róchez' contract out and pursue a known commodity this summer that is over the age of 21.

Extra Reading: Bryan Róchez is 'Paying the Price' for Missing Orlando City Preseason Due to Injury


Philadelphia Union

Designated Players: Edu; two DP spots open

Likelihood of summer moves: High

Club status: Unified.

Incredibly, the Union sit comfortably at the top of the table in the east without the help of any designated players. That's not a typo. The Union's DP list consists of one name: Maurice Edu. But a stress fracture has prevented the US midfielder from playing a role in his club's early success. The Union currently have a good thing going, however one wonders if the bubble will burst in the second half of the season if their roster remains static. I can't imagine a situation where the Union do not make additions to their roster this summer.

Extra Reading: Where the Union Stand with the Salary Cap

Portland Timbers

Designated Players: Ridgewell, Valeri, Melano; no vacancy... yet

Likelihood of summer moves: Low - Moderate

Club status: Clearcutting, fungus and old growth.

The returning MLS Cup champs have not looked like the same club this season, for several reasons: the loss of key role players (Villafaña and Wallace), the aging of their defense (Jewsbury and Borchers are a combined 70 years old), and key injuries to the backline (Ridgewell, Powell and Kwarasey) have all taken a toll on the Timbers 2016 season. Add to that, DP Lucas Melano has not lived up to expectations that were brought on by the $5 million transfer fee the Timbers paid last summer to acquire him. When asked about Melano's goal drought this season, Timbers boss Caleb Porter chimed in, "it's pretty obvious that he needs to produce more." In his 28 regular season appearances with the Portlandian side, Melano has only found the back of the net once. Recently, Argentine side Boca Juniors were rumored to have made an offer for the young forward. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson quickly dispelled said rumor via social media, but left fans with a teaser saying "tough choices are ahead," with regards to the summer transfer window.

Extra Reading: Timbers owner dispels Melano transfer rumors

Real Salt Lake

Designated Players: Burrito, Movsisyan, Plata; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: High

Club status: Hungry three-headed salt monster.

With the second highest points per game statistic in the entire league, Real Salt Lake is firing on all cylinders. All three designated players are scoring goals for their club: Plata (5), Movsisyan (4), and Burrito (4). Salt Lake probably has the most balanced offensive attack in the league, with an elite attacking midfielder in Javier Morales providing service in their 4-3-3 formation. Since Garth Lagerwey's departure as Salt Lake's general manager, his replacement Craig Waibel has brought in midfielder Sunday Stephen, and DP forwards Yura Movsisyan and Burrito Martinez. These three moves have contributed to a revitalized RSL club that is now bossing the western division around. Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey should look to his former club as a model for building an MLS Cup-ready squad with his new team. Despite their early success, Waibel insists that his club will be 'very active' during the summer transfer window, likely to find a high quality center back to shore up the back line.

Extra Reading: RSL to be very active in summer transfer window

San Jose Earthquakes

Designated Players: Dawkins, Perez Garcia, Innocent; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Low

Club status: Tectonic pressure, rising!

If the season were to end today, the Quakes would barely make the playoffs. The club has gone 1-2-3 in their past six games. Chemistry is probably the biggest reason for San Jose's sub-par record. If Wondolowski (7 goals) were to suddenly pick up an injury, the club would be doomed. Does that sound familiar, Sounders fans? Since his knee injury from spring of 2015, Innocent hasn't been able to stay on the field long enough to jell with his teammates or figure as a dependable contributor. Simply put, to be contenders in a strong western division, San Jose needs Innocent to find his game and take some pressure off of the central attack (Wondo and Amarikwa). It is doubtful that the 'Quakes make any substantial moves this summer. All three DP spots are full, and much of their targeted allocation money has been used to buy Wondo's salary down.

Extra Reading: Quakes Player Salaries Analysis

Seattle Sounders

Designated Players: Dempsey, Valdez; open DP spot

Likelihood of summer moves: Very High

Club status: Stuck in second gear (hasn't been the Sounders' day, week, month, or even year)

The Philadelphia Union have proven to the league that designated players are not a prerequisite for success. So Sounders fans have to be left wondering, "If Philly can win games without any DPs, why is losing Oba such a big deal? I mean, we still have two more DPs than they do."

For the sake of brevity, I'll focus on two problems, 1) chance creation from the midfield and 2) wide attacking play. The Sounders have proven that they are quite good at holding on to the ball for long periods of time, but can't figure out the whole "scoring" thing (despite employing two USMNT forwards in Morris and Dempsey and a senior member of Paraguay's national team in Valdez). The Sounders have predominantly played out of a 4-3-3 this season without any natural central attacking midfielders or natural wingers to cal upon. In response to the unbalanced roster, coach Sigi Schmidt has opted to shoehorn his best players into positions that are less than ideal in order to get his best players onto the pitch at the same time. This strategy has resulted in a predictably narrow attack with a low number of chances created and goals scored. Aware of the club's roster deficiencies, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey is looking to bring in an elite midfield playmaker (likely Nicolas Lodeiro). In addition to a midfield DP, Garth is also looking to sign a "complementary" TAM-level player (salary in  range of $450K - $1 million). It is unclear at this point what Garth means when he says complementary, but hopefully his vision will be made clear sooner rather than later.

Extra Reading: Don't give up on Sounders' pursuit of Nicolas Lodeiro just yet

Sporting Kansas City

Designated Players: Zusi, Besler; open DP spot

Likelihood of summer moves: High

Club status: Dumpster fire

Sporting got the season off to a hot start, but that hot start quickly metamorphosed into a smoldering dumpster fire. Sporting Kansas City has won only once in their past 11 matches played. The biggest loss this past offseason was their rising Hungarian star, Krisztián Németh. No one was brought in to replace his production. On top of that are injuries galore, losing at home, and just a lack of finishing. Possession has been there, corner kicks, you name it, just no goals. Again, sound familiar, Seattle? Sporting KC needs some reinforcements in the midfield or on the wings,. By the time the transfer window arrives, will it be too late for the blue and white? (spoiler alert: yes it will be).

Extra Reading: Things are worse than they seem for SKC

Toronto FC

Designated Players: Giovinco, Altidore, Bradley; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Moderate

Club status: Get well soon, Altidore.

It's hard to win games when both of your strike partners are not on the field together. Couple that with not having a home pitch, and you've got yourself TFC's first half of the season in a nutshell. The Reds should take solace in being only one of four clubs to have managed three road wins thus far (others are NYCFC, FC Dallas, and RSL). Jozy Altidore and Giovinco have only played together once at home this season. It was against Dallas, and the Reds won 1:0. Since that game, Altidore has been sidelined with a muscle injury. Since the Dallas game, Toronto has gone 0-0-2 at home against the likes of NYCFC and Columbus. Yikes. With any luck, Altidore and Giovinco will be back at full strength banging home golazos in front of their home fans in their newly renovated stadium. With a full complement of DPs, TFC cannot afford to make any splashy signings this summer, but may be able to afford a depth signing once Herculez Gomez' salary comes off the books.

Extra Reading: TFC linked with Celtic fullback

Vancouver Whitecaps

Designated Players: Rivero, Morales, Laba; no vacancy

Likelihood of summer moves: Low

Club status: Ebbs and flows

In their past six matches played, Vancouver has gone a respectable 3-2-1. The Dive'Caps benefited early in the season by, shall we say, dubious refereeing decisions. The Whitecaps have 21 points through 15 games played, but could easily be sitting at 17 or 18 points, grappling for the last playoff spot with Seattle and Kansas City. Like seasons past, the Vancouver side is a young squad comprised of several young attacking players who collectively bear the weight of goal-scoring duties. This approach to roster construction has it's advantages and disadvantages. Employing youngsters may seem like a shrewd way of stretching the cap, but relying upon young players often results in ebbs and flows throughout MLS' long season. Our Cascadian neighbors to the north enjoyed a busy offseason, picking up a few new pieces to the attack including Blas Perez and Masato Kudo. Don't expect the Caps to make too many waves this coming transfer window, if any.

Extra Reading: Vancouver Whitecaps Midseason MVPs

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That's the league in a nutshell. Interesting, crazy isn't it? It just goes to show you, there's no singular recipe for success in this league. Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles. All these teams have found success this season their own way. Philadelphia doesn't currently have any operational DPs. Maurice Edu is their only DP, and he has missed the entire season. Dallas believes in the young, fast, and Hispanic model and it seems to be working out just fine for them. Soccer analysts wrote Colorado off at the beginning of the season but the league's bad news bears have jelled and have gone from joke to juggernaut. Los Angeles Galaxy doesn't care about age or reputation. Bruce Arena just takes the aged superstars that are given to him and wins championships. What's the Sounders' story? So far it's roster incompatibility and unrealized potential. Hopefully by the end of the season we'll be singing a different tune. Until then, just remember one thing:

SaH will be there for you. When the rain begins to pour, SaH will be there for you 'cause you're there for us too.