Monday, December 10, 2007

Guest Post: MLS Designated Player Distracts Teams From Real Needs

I don't do nearly enough on MLS over here, but you'll get your fill today courtesy of Jeff over at Center Holds It. He and I are swapping posts this week; could be a regular happening too. He's already posted my entry over on his blog, my take on what I believe to be the idiocy of nations co-hosting major tournaments. I invite you to link on over there and have a read after, of course, you've digested Jeff's entry below.

Incidentally, if anyone else would like to post here and host one of mine, speak up! Here's Jeff's post:

Like a lot of people employed by Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as thousands of us observers, I’m still trying to sort out what I think about the designated player rule. But I’m also finding that the more I think about it, the more complications, big and small, that I see.

The latest one came to me as I reviewed DC United’s season, specifically, as I considered where they needed to improve their team. That’s on defense, as I see it: United has plenty of offensive firepower, but a variety of defensive issues have thwarted their “real” championship bids for the past two seasons (e.g their shot at MLS Cup). And, according to what I’m seeing, it’s a lack of organization that plagues this team as opposed to a problem with the individual parts. So, under normal circumstances, DC would go out and find a player - logically and/or ideally, the best one they could find and afford - to organize their back three, or four...or whatever it is they’ll play in 2008.

But, according to credible reports, the team is about to use their designated player slot to sign Juan Sebastian Veron, a midfield player who will more likely than not feature in their attack. And that’s the problem with the designated player rule: it distorts teams’ priorities, pulling their attention and resources toward “sexy” players when they’re not necessarily a given team’s first need. To put this in more concrete terms, DC United is on the verge of acquiring Veron when it’s someone closer to Lubos Kubik they’re needing.

Take away the question of what a specific team needs and Veron is precisely the kind of player for which the designated player rule was created: high-profile, exciting, and so on. That’s just another part of the rule’s complicated effect on roster decisions. Quite apart from his injury woes, Claudio Reyna’s designated player status caused a minor controversy (add the injuries and you’re getting into major controversy territory). Between Reyna’s position not generating a lot of eye-catching statistics and his limited capacity for putting butts in seats (“the greatest holding mid in U.S. history? Sweet!”), he’s immediately raised the issue of whether the “special money” spent on him tallied up in terms of increased attention and revenues. It almost becomes a question less of what your team needs than who it is they can get and how well he sells. And facts are facts: it’s hard enough to push a holding midfielder; what chance does a defender have?

This isn’t a strict either-or proposition, of course; for instance, there’s nothing to stop DC United from both signing Veron and rebuilding their defense. And, if you check the comments in my DC United review, you’ll see a fairly sound theory for how Veron could help keep pressure of DC’s defense (I’m not sold, but that’s another post). But that may or may not work out, so this remains a proposition of allocating finite resources. With their balance tilting toward forwards and midfielders - hardly irregular, but DC’s might tilt a little more than most (take away Vanney’s $237K chunk and the rest of DC’s defense pulls down $225K combined) - that leaves them fairly little money to leverage into better individual players, never mind the player DC needs - e.g. someone with the experience and savvy to make those players work. That Veron will add more than $125K to the midfielder/forward side of the equation only complicates things a little more.

So, that’s what I’m seeing: DC has a need and money to spend to fill it, but there’s this weird rule in place - that’s the DP rule - that muddies the logic of the rebuilding process. The more I think about it, the more the designated player rule looks like a marketing vehicle that should be replaced with a higher general salary cap.

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1 comment:

netminder_75 said...

I agree with your thoughts behind teams going for the "Sexy" pick vs team need. Denilson also comes to mind in this regard. I do think that MLS requires thes "Sexy" type players to achieve in the end a better overall talent pool and product on the field. The Beckhams and Blancos (who I believe was worth Chicago's investment)put butts in the seats, and sell jerseys. They also help out in trying to secure TV deals. This brings extra money to MLS. Combined with the Adidas 10 year investment,these monies will allow the league to increase the salry cap by a significant enough amount to make a noticeable impact on the level of play and players. The Beckhams, Blancos, and Angels also make it more viable for other mid - high profile players to consider a move to play in the US. Those are the positives (IMO) to the DP, but if the money and media attention gained from Beckham etc... is not used properly by the league, then the DP will end up being a negative for the league in the long run.