Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Columnist: Designated Disappointments

In what we hope will be a reoccuring section of the site, Ned Hardwood has submitted the first guest column on the site. He writes an article breaking down his thoughts on MLS's use of Designated Players and the DP rule. While "MLS Reserves" does not always agree or disagree with the thoughts of our guest columnists, we do encourage healthy debate and conversations on this topic. Ned can be reached at or followed on twitter @RBSStampede. Now without further ado...

Designated Disappointments
David Beckham, LA
Let’s face it: the MLS is not the cream of the crop when it comes to soccer leagues in the world. The league is simply just too young and un-prestigious to attract some of the top young talents from around the globe. Though the league lacks terrific ripe, young talent, teams have recently been trying very hard to enhance the quality of the league by using their DP spots. The Designated Player rule was designed to help clubs bring in top tier talent, without having their expensive employees’ salaries significantly eat up their cap room. DP slots were designed to be filled by only those who could have a remarkable economic and physical impact on their team. However, as the league slowly approaches the fifth year of the rule, the trend of the DP’s is slowly going down hill.
There have been 29 designated players in the MLS since 2007, 16 of whom are currently playing in the league. These players were brought to the MLS in an attempt to significantly augment the quality of the league. However, if history tells us anything, it is that many of these high profile players did not earn their paycheck.

Eric Hassli, Vancouver

In fact, many of the current DP’s never should have deserved the DP nametag in the first place. Columbus Designated Player Andres Mendoza was past his prime and struggling in the Turkish league before landing big money in the MLS. Although he has scored multiple goals so far this season, his big ego and bad attitude make you wonder why Columbus chose him as their star player. Do you remember when Mendoza taunted his own fans for delaying Jeff Cunningham’s chance at history on a PK against RSL? I wish I didn’t.
More designated players that have drawn criticism include DC midfielder Branko Boskovic, RSL forward Alvaro Saborio, the infamous Blaise Nkufo, and of course TFC midfielder Julian De Guzman, who is still yet to score in the MLS after 40 appearances. The fact that these overpriced players are breaking bank while MLS All-Stars such as Omar Cummings, Tim Ream, and Steve Zakuani all receive 5 digit salaries is alarming as an MLS fan. The MLS gets criticized enough as it is, and the last thing we want is to make it look like we are desperate to overpay for washed up foreigners.
TFC Fans Deserve More from their DPs
The recent trend of discouraging DP’s is an embarrassment to the league and must be stopped before the MLS’ reputation slowly disintegrates to a spec of dust. If you are an MLS owner and are reading this, I suggest you check out my cheat sheet below as to how to avoid becoming the next club to flunk the DP test.
1. Improve Scouting Systems - Hopefully, I am not the only one that notices the inexperience of many MLS scouts in the league today. It seems as though many “talent detectives” are looking for the wrong attributes in their prospects, resulting in multiple DP fails in the recent years. How could the Dynamo possibly have overlooked Koke’s homesickness and susceptibility to the Houston heat? Did Toronto FC really believe Mista was MLS material (much less DP material) after scoring just five club goals from 2006-2010? Many clubs must first rebuild their scouting systems from within before looking to add their next international star.
Lindpere is not a DP...
2. Invest in the Real Young Instead of the Real Old - Call me unorthodox, but I would prefer MLS clubs actually investing in potential rather than the elderly. Simply put, it seems far more logical to spend money on a player who has the potential to be great rather than a player who is only heading downhill. If MLS clubs can start signing high-potential players at a very early age, the league has a better chance to succeed in the long term and gain respect from foreigners. If a few of these players develop into superstars and gain European interest, suddenly the league transforms from a retirement home into a feeder league. Plus, who has a better chance to change the league: a 15 year old prodigy or a 35 year old ex-star on his career death bed? I rest my case.
3. Finally, the MLS’ attractiveness must improve in the upcoming years so teams can lure top international figures over to the league more easily. If MLS expansion continues to improve and fan bases remarkably resemble those of the Cascadia Northwest by 2015, primetime players would more willingly come to the states and thus improve the league. In other words, if we pretty ourselves up, snagging a date to the prom will be a piece of cake.

Follow me @RBStampede on Twitter to chat about the MLS and all things soccer.

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