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Who Are the Designated Players Coming to MLS?

FRISCO, TX - MARCH 26: Fabian Castillo - a new kind of designated player (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
FRISCO, TX - MARCH 26: Fabian Castillo - a new kind of designated player (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
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In looking forward to Chivas USA's expected player acquisition, this week will be devoted to some of the needs of the team and appeals of playing here. Today, we'll look at the option of signing a designated player and what kinds of players are being signed under the rule. Since the designated player option was inaugurated in 2007, it has been used as a tool to entice exceptional players with transfer and/or wage standards that are higher than league restrictions. The most recognizable form of designated player are the aging superstars, Beckham, Henry, and Blanco. While those three players have had pretty successful stints in MLS, there have been concerns that the aging star model is flawed because it seems like a 'golddigging' method to make a few more bucks and play lazy soccer for a year or two before retirement. Furthermore, superstars are not a dime-a-dozen, and there are still many players uninterested in playing in the U.S. or Canada. Still superstars will continue to come, but at a rate of one a year or so. This means there's a sliver of hope that players like Didier Drogba or Diego Forlan could come to the league at some point, but it is an outside chance.

What are the other forms of designated players? Read about it below the jump.

There have been two other main groups of players obtained through the designated player rule. First, there's the intermediate group of players, who have played abroad, sometimes at major leagues, sometimes at smaller leagues. Presumably, these are players who don't garner the global headlines of superstars, but are still considered good bets that can become very valuable to a team. This is a group that normally doesn't get the same salary as the superstar DPs, but they are still a significant investment above the salary cap restrictions on regular players. The problem is that this group is high risk. Again, although they don't cost the same as a Beckham or an Henry, they can really tie things up if they are ineffective. 

Examples of successful intermediate DPs include Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was the driving force behind Columbus's MLS Cup win in 2008, Juan Pablo Angel (before he went to the Galaxy), and if you want to look at more recent players, Fredy Montero and Eric Hassli, who are inconsistent but still of a higher quality that most players in the league. So this is certainly an effective avenue to get good players who are on the rise or decline, but can still contribute on a regular basis.

There have, however, been some major failures in this intermediate group as well. Remember Luis Angel Landin? Mista? Blaise Nkufo? Nery Castillo? If you don't, it is not a surprise as they made headlines but little else. In fact, in examining the list of designated players signed before this season, the success rate (admittedly, it is subjective) is not that great. In the cases of the biggest flameouts, player and/or team cut ties within a year, so the money was not tied up for a long period, but it still casts doubts on scouting of players by those teams and can set new player acquisitions back in the short term. For example, fairly or not, Houston is getting a reputation of obtaining DP-level or just under DP-level players that don't work out. Landin and this year Sergio Koke have created more headaches than results for the Dynamo and their fans. So buyer beware!

The third main example of designated player is the newest trend. Teams are now using designated player money to pay the transfer fees of talented young players who are willing to be paid less, sometimes well within the regular MLS salary cap. Examples of this case includes Fabian Castillo of FC Dallas and Diego Chara of the Portland Timbers. Reportedly Castillo will only be considered a designated player this season because of his transfer fee, and then fit within the regular roster. Still, it provides a method to obtain players who may be worth the investment. I think the expectation for the players is that they will get greater exposure in MLS compared to the leagues they were playing in and it could be a springboard to a bigger move down the line. Since this is a new strategy, it remains to be seen how it will work out for teams over time and if it will become a cost-effective way to get above-average talent.

So, what are the chances Chivas USA will use an available slot to sign their first designated player? I'll provide some speculations in a follow-up tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you want more information about the transfer structure, take a look at this article from The Brotherly Game complete with a good basic breakdown of how it works.