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  • Designated Player Roundup: Week 1


    ccs-3097-140264008181_thumb.jpgSince the designated player rule was introduced in 2007, it's been the source of much discussion amongst fans throughout the league. There have been a few successes, and a collection of high-profile busts. Toronto and Vancouver each have a DP to call their own, with the capability to add up to two more. Whether or not they'll do so is yet to be seen, but to get an idea of what a designated player can add to a team (and how the Canadian teams' DPs are stacking up), I'm planning to take a quick weekly look at how this year's crop of designated players is doing.

    This week will be a super-sized version, with some background on where each of the current DPs came from, in addition to how they performed during First Kick week in Major League Soccer. Rest assured, future editions will be much, much shorter.


    Week 1 (March 14-20)

    David Beckham (Los Angeles): The original designated player -- and, ostensibly, the man for whom the rule was created in the first place -- needs no real introduction. Becks is entering the final year of his contract in what has been, to say the least, a tumultuous tenure in MLS. It'll be interesting to see whether the 35-year-old will simply play out the string, or give it his all in one final, desperate, preposterous attempt to latch on somewhere across the pond ahead of Euro 2012. Either way, he'll have a neato haircut or two.

    Becks was Becks in the season opener against Seattle, playing the full 90, taking two shots and picking up a yellow card deep into stoppage time. He added another full-90 performance on Sunday night, in L.A.'s 1-1 draw with New England, in which he also had two shots on typically dangerous free kicks. Interestingly, he suffered the most fouls of any Galaxy player in both games, proving that, if nothing else, he's still a presence on the field.

    Juan Pablo Angel (Los Angeles): The other "original" DP, the Colombian striker came over from England (after six years at Aston Villa) in 2007 to join New York. He had an up-and-down tenure there, scoring 58 goals in 102 appearances, while seeing his team go from the lowest lows (the disastrous 2009 campaign) to some pretty decent highs (winning the Eastern Conference last year).

    Evidently that turnaround made the Red Bulls feel they had to further use for the 35-year-old, whose option was declined at the end of last season. He was then picked up in the Re-Entry Draft by L.A., a team looking to replace the scoring touch of Edson Buddle, who bolted for Germany after last season.

    Angel missed the Galaxy's 1-0 win in Seattle due to illness, but came into their game with New England as a substitute in the 63rd minute. He didn't add anything to the score sheet, but considering he replaced Chad Barrett (who was in full Barrett, shot-scuffing form), Angel was just fine.

    Landon Donovan (Los Angeles): I'm guessing you don't need an explanation as to who Landon Donovan is. Plus, this article is going to be preposterously bloated as it is, so I'll cut a corner here and just direct you to the most important photo of Landycakes ever, and move right into his Week 1 stats.

    The talismanic American played the full 90 in L.A.'s first win, amassing two attempts at goal. On Sunday, his best chance on goal came in the 63rd minute, a scrambled header right in front that was smothered by Matt Reis in the Revolution goal.

    Julian de Guzman (Toronto): JDG's tenure with his hometown club has been, to put it mildly, controversial. He was effectively blackballed in Europe after speaking out about players not being paid at his previous club, Spain's Deportivo la Coruna. He signed a multi-year deal as TFC's first DP in late 2009, but became a lightning rod for criticism in 2010, with some TFC supporters wondering why the squad's highest-paid player has yet to score a goal through 30 appearances.

    What some such frustrated fans may not know is that in 2007-08, Deportivo la Coruna finished in the top half of the La Liga table, defeating both Barcelona and Real Madrid during the course of the campaign. JDG was named the team's player of the year, with the following stat line: 35 appearances, zero goals.

    Long story short? It's perfectly valid to question the wisdom of using a DP spot on someone who's been used as a defensive midfielder through most of his club career. It's also perfectly valid to question whether JDG has actually been effective in a holding mid's role at TFC. But to call de Guzman a failure because he hasn't found the back of the net, which some people have, reveals some ignorance as to what, exactly, he's out there to do.

    Anyway, he didn't play in Toronto's season-opening loss to Vancouver, as he's still recovering from off-season knee surgery. In that game, Toronto seemed horribly disorganized on the defensive side of things. We'll see if he can help rectify that situation once he returns.

    Branko Boskovic (DC): Boskovic joined DC United midway through last season, after three years with Rapid Wien in the Austrian league. The 30-year-old also had multi-year tenures with PSG and Red Star Belgrade, so he's got a decent pedigree. He made 10 appearance for United in 2010.

    Now, all the focus in United's emotional 3-1 opening win over Columbus was centered on the triumphant debut of Charlies Davies, so maybe Boskovic just blended in out there on the pitch? Nah, he was an unused substitute. Yikes.

    Thierry Henry (New York): It's important that new soccer fans be given a chance to learn about the game at their own pace, so it's important not to presuppose knowledge that may be common amongst footie fanatics, but unknown to most laypeople. That being said, as in the case of Beckham and Donovan, let's just assume anyone reading this knows who Thierry Henry is, and what he's done prior to joining MLS.

    What has he done in MLS? Last season, the 33-year-old had a pair of goals in 12 appearances for New York. In this year's season opener, his most memorable contribution was having a penalty kick stopped cold by Kasey Keller in the Red Bulls' 1-0 win over Seattle. He also attempted a very low-level scissor kick in the 4th minute, which went well wide. That was one of his four shots (one of which was on goal) in a full-90 appearance.

    Rafael Marquez (New York): When I think Rafa Marquez, I think "idiotically being sent off in a World Cup qualifier for needlessly cleating Tim Howard in the leg". Mexican fans may have a different perspective, though. They'd likely stand behind the man who captained Mexico at the 2010 World Cup, a man with 98 caps for his national side and a solid eight-year tenure at Barcelona. The Red Bulls added the, ahem, gritty 32-year-old defender as their third DP late last season, and he made 11 appearances for NYRB in 2010.

    In the season opener, Rafa held the fort at the back, pacing New York to a clean sheet victory, and managing two shots himself. He also didn't get sent off, which is always a plus.

    Alvaro Fernandez (Seattle): Upon his signing midway through last season, Fernandez was lauded as versatile by Sounders ownership, while manager Sigi Schmid said "he's pretty much a two-way guy". In other words, the sort of player whose impact is difficult to quantify on the score sheet. The 25-year-old midfielder came over from Nacional in his native Uruguay and made 14 appearances (with two goals) for Seattle in 2010. He also has 11 caps with the Uruguayan national side.

    As for the first week of 2011... he managed a shot on goal in the opener against L.A., but was subbed out in the 63rd minute. Then on Saturday, much of the same: one shot on goal before being taken out in the 68th. It's possible there's a fitness concern; or, Schmid (whose team was losing both games 1-0 at the time) decided that Fernandez could be sacrificed for someone with more offensive oomph. We'll see how this goes.

    Fredy Montero (Seattle): Speaking of Seattle's offensive oomph - Fredy! The 23-year-old Colombian made a name for himself while on loan with Seattle in 2009 and 2010, scoring 22 goals in 56 appearances and showing the sort of skill on the ball that (sorry, folks) many MLS players simply don't possess. This past off-season, Seattle acquired him outright from his previous team, Deportivo Cali, and slapped the designated player tag on him.

    He was a linchpin for the Sounders in both of their first two games, playing the full 90 in both. He created dangerous chances against both L.A. and New York, registering three shots on goal in each game, and was the most-fouled Seattle player on both nights. He could very well become a face of the entire league this season.

    Omar Bravo (Kansas City): Another Mexican star, Bravo has spent most of his career plying his trade for Chivas (the non-USA kind), racking up 107 goals in 297 appearances. The just-turned-31-year-old also has 15 goals in 62 appearances for the Mexican national team, and was reportedly quite happy to join MLS when KC got their hooks in him as a designated player last year.

    So, what did he do in his MLS debut last week? Oh, not much. Just two goals in KC's 3-2 victory at Chivas (the USA kind), claiming MLS Player of the Week honours. After the second, he made the effort of going over to celebrate with KC's traveling supporters.

    Oh, and lest you think he's all "scoring goals" and "being nice", he also earned a yellow card for tossing a hit on Jimmy Conrad that would have earned him a three-game suspension in the NHL.

    Alvaro Saborio (Salt Lake): Saborio took a similar path to Montero: he first joined RSL on loan (from FC Sion in Switzerland) last season, and had an immediate impact. He ended up leading the team with 12 goals in 27 appearances, right in line with an impressive strike rate accumulated through a career mostly spent in Switzerland and his native Costa Rica. So impressed was the RSL brass that they gave him the DP spot (and a dandy new contract) during this past off-season.

    Saborio managed two shots before being subbed out in the 84th minute of RSL's regular season opener against San Jose. But earlier in the week, Saborio opened his goal-scoring account for 2011, potting RSL's first goal in their 2-0 home win over Saprissa in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

    Eric Hassli (Vancouver): Chances are, you don't need to be told what the 29-year-old Frenchman did over the weekend. But in case you do: he not only potted the first MLS goal in franchise history, he also added a second to seal a victory over Toronto, before being subbed out in the 83rd minute to rapturous applause from the sold-out crowd at Empire Field.

    While he's instantly written his name into Vancouver sporting lore, it may very well have never happened this way. The Whitecaps stumbled across Hassli while scouting other talent in the Swiss league. Kind of odd that they'd slap the DP tag on such a player, but here we are. He scored 27 goals in 84 appearances during a four-year stint at FC Zurich, and while 'Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi has said Hassli's biggest contribution will be veteran presence, his MLS debut surely has many thinking he could be a dynamic offensive contributor.

    Andres Mendoza (Columbus): Who wants to be the contract-holder for a 32-year-old Peruvian with somewhat-funny hair? The Crew, evidently, do. Mendoza signed with the Crew last season, but was only confirmed as a designated player earlier this month. The striker has had a decent strike rate, but bounced around a lot during his career, playing in Peru, Belgium, Ukraine, France, Russia, Romania, Mexico and, most recently, Turkey. So he's the Peruvian Ali Gerba, it sounds like ('cept Mendoza's eight-goals-in-44-appearances strike rate for Peru pales in comparison to Ali's performances for Canada).

    Perhaps, like Gerba, Mendoza can find a comfortable home in North America. Or he'll end up in Albania by 2012. As for his MLS campaign so far... one shot on goal in a full-90 appearance, in Columbus's largely uninspiring 3-1 loss to DC United.

    Fabian Castillo (Dallas): Do you remember what you were doing in late 1992? Me, I was getting wrapped up in the excitement of the Toronto Blue Jays' march to their first World Series title. Fabian Castillo, though, likely remembers nothing, since he was a newborn at the time.

    Yes, the 18-year-old Colombian, with 18 appearances for Deportivo Cali to his name prior to this season, has been brought on as a DP in Dallas. Team president Doug Quinn says the move shows a dedication to "long term development and long term success on the field." Yuh huh. Hey, who knows. Kid could be the next Fredy Montero. Or the next Luis Angel Landin. Time will tell.

    For now, Castillo wasn't even on Dallas's roster for their 1-1 draw with Chicago over the weekend. I could investigate the reasons, but you're surely exhausted by now... which is good, because I am too.

    Check back in future weeks as we take a (much, much more succinct) look at how the league's current DPs are doing


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