Friday, February 5, 2010

The Designated Player Dilemma

Ever since the 2006 trade that sent Amado Guevara to Chivas USA for a designated player (DP) slot and a third-round draft pick, the Red Bulls have been the only MLS club in possession of two DP spots. In 2007, RBNY used the first wisely, when they brought Juan Pablo Ángel to North America. By almost any measurement (apart from the biggest one - trophies), Ángel's addition has been a huge positive for the club. Even during the dismal 2009 season, when he struggled with injuries and the club failed to notch a single road victory, JPA managed to score a dozen goals. Factor in Ángel's professionalism and you have a near-ideal DP signing. In fact the only thing you could argue Ángel has not brought to New York is star power. His name, though well-known in soccer circles, has little to no value to the casual fan. But is appealing to casual fans what the designated player is all about? As anyone who has seen Beckham groupies at a Galaxy road game can attest, if Goldenballs is not in town, most of these "new fans" are simply not repeat customers.

This brings us back to the issue of RBNY's second DP slot, the one formerly occupied by a certain Claudio Reyna. Over the past year, rumors have been rampant that Thierry Henry was being lined up as New York's big glamor signing - the cool East Coast answer to Becks's over-the-top Hollywood glitz - with some going so far as to pencil his name into the Red Bulls' lineup for 2010. More recently the Henry talk has cooled, with Red Bulls' sporting director Erik Solér claiming that there has been no contact with Barcelona or Henry and the player himself re-iterating that he will remain in Spain until his contract ends in 2011. Henry, though certainly no Beckham (who is?), is at least on the radar of most American sports fans, thanks to his Gillette ads, other endorsements and oh yes, that incident. His presence in the New York would immediately make the Red Bulls a legitimate attacking force, though one could argue that any strike partnership relying on the likes of Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Luke Sassano for service is going to struggle for goals.

Now, less than 40 days from the opening of Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls' have their best (and last?) chance to reintroduce themselves to the previously indifferent New York market, while the second designated player slot still sits vacant. Despite a solid draft and an early start on pre-season training, nothing has been done to dramatically improve the quality of the squad or strike fear into the opposition. Journeyman players like Roy Miller and Joel Lindpere may plug a few of the team's many holes but they are not going to put butts in seats at Red Bull Arena or create the kind of buzz that many fans were banking on.

The latest wild rumor making the rounds on Thursday evening was that the club was in negotiations with legendary Italian defender Paolo Maldini. These rumors have since been shot down by a number of RBNY beat writers as well as Maldini's father Cesare. The sad fact is that, even at 41 years of age, Maldini would easily outclass any of the Red Bulls' current defenders. Whether it's worth it to spend $335,000 of cap space on a defender, however good he may be, is open to debate.

Where does all of this leave us? Confused, mostly, and with a lot more questions than answers:
  • Does the club intend to use the second designated player slot in 2010 if Henry is not available until 2011?
  • Is Thierry Henry even still on the team's radar, or are they looking elsewhere?
  • What will be done with the allocation money the club currently has available?
  • Has additional money been set aside to lure a designated player?
  • Will the new collective bargaining agreement (should one be reached) alter designated player rules?
Nearly three and a half years after Guevara left New York for L.A., the Red Bulls have little to nothing to show for the transaction. Given MLS restrictions and the club's seeming hesitancy about aggressively pursuing a second designated player after the departure/retirement of Reyna, RBNY fans could be forgiven for wondering if they will have to dampen their expectations for 2010.


  1. Is this what the search for a DP has come down to? A guy on the wrong side of 40, who has already retired? C'mon aready! Show a current superstar the money, like LA did to Beckham. How about Robinho on loan after the WC?

  2. How about someone now and not six months from now? Squad still looks incredibly weak and I have yet to see us seriously linked with a player I have actually heard of.