Breakdown: Designated Players must find their place as team ethic evolves
Designated Players carry a sort of mythology beyond the rank and file. Blame David Beckham. His desire to come to the United States required a mechanism to justify his acquisition. This magical concoction allowed MLS teams to extend themselves beyond the salary budget to acquire artistry and cachet.
The Designated Player concept evolved in the years after Beckham landed, though. Big stars always trump smaller ones in this calculus in the purest sense, but the expansion of the rule over the years prompted other teams to wield it practically. It serves as more than a method to attract headlines and goose the gates. It also offered tangible aid to help teams on the field by tempting players to North America with market level wages.
By expanding the use of the practice to include solid professionals on comparably modest wages and talented prospects, clubs strengthened the overall talent pool within the league and opened the door to budget and selection complications. DPs are simply another vital component in a wider teambuilding process. They can drop in and out of the starting XI (Juan Luis Anangonó, Jerry Bengtson and Claudio Bieler are nodding their heads here) and tumble down the pecking order if everything
Take the plight of ex-Vancouver striker Kenny Miller as an example of the transformation. His modest production (13 goals from 43 appearances) and his strong leadership in the locker room evoked praise from manager Carl Robinson, but even Miller’s former Wolves teammate could not squeeze him onto the team sheet every week with the options at his disposal.
The former Scotland international sat on the sidelines for much of the Whitecaps’ 3-2 victory over San Jose on Saturday and saw why he and the club parted ways the next day. The full flight displayed in the opening stages against the Earthquakes revealed the next step in the Whitecaps’ development. The combination of ingenuity and pace in the front four led to a cadence the visitors could not interrupt during the early stages. Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks flew around and through the opposition. Pedro Morales located the gaps. And the Whitecaps were absolutely rampant.
They managed to score three times in the first 20 minutes without Miller, an accomplished and willing striker better suited to regular starting duty in a more deliberate side somewhere else. This display and his nebulous role in a team with Mattocks up front and Morales as the number 10 pointed the way to a future without him. His contractual status (expiring at the end of June) and the impending swap meet ahead at the end of the European season practically demanded the resolution to come.
Miller and Vancouver mutually agreed to terminate the remainder of his contract to aid both parties. The decision gives the Whitecaps time to poke around for a replacement before the MLS primary window closes on May 23 and provides Miller with ample time to secure a third spell at Rangers (he denied any looming deal on a conference call with Vancouver reporters on Sunday) or any other move he may pursue.
Pragmatism never quite entered the discussions when Beckham first arrived. His administrative legacy now operates squarely upon it. Designated Players sometimes operate in the heavens, but they primarily function as mere mortals in most cases now. Their current role – an important piece in a wider philosophy, not the central figure upon which all is built – constitutes a natural progression for a league perpetually seeking to increase its standard of play. The shift means the expected heroes from the original concept now serve as everyday men with expectations to fulfill and places to protect as they seek to prove their worth.
Five Points – Week 9
New England moved into first place in the Eastern Conference after Lee Nguyen's late penalty secured all three points at Toronto FC.
1. New York, Sporting Kansas City and New England sit atop the Eastern Conference: Credit the Revs’ ability to churn out results in humdrum matches for their current perch alongside the two preseason favorites. New England has turned two matches in its favor over the past two weeks – a 2-0 victory over Sporting last weekend and the 2-1 triumph at Toronto FC on Saturday – by keeping the match tight and pouncing at the right time. The persistence transformed a likely two-point haul into a perfect six points.
2. Toronto FC needed to build on its bright start: TFC controlled the opening stages of that painful defeat to the Revolution, but the Reds failed to build on Jackson’s early goal. The ruthlessness often located on the counter frittered away when handed the majority of the possession. “I think we need to learn how to win at TFC,” Nelsen told reporters after the game. He’s probably right, based on this evidence.
3. Time to stand up and be counted in Chicago: The home side looked destined for a seventh straight draw (a MLS record-in-waiting) before crumbling in the late stages and suffering a 3-2 defeat to Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park on Saturday. RSL deserves credit for its persistence on the night and its second-half response, but the Fire needed to find a way to see out a game it led 2-0 at halftime. Fire coach Frank Yallop said as much during his blunt post-match comments:
4. Punctuation marks at both ends highlight Marshall’s steadying presence: Seattle defender Chad Marshall shows up every week and performs to a high standard every week. He offers the touchstone so desperately required for much of last season. His display in the 2-1 victory against Philadelphia – including six blocks inside his own penalty area and the game-winning header down the other end – merely serves as a way to expose his influential presence to a wider audience.
5. Late drama in Portland finally brings the Timbers some relief: Damian Lillard drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the Blazers’ first-round NBA playoff series against Houston on Friday night. Maximiliano Urruti replicated the feat in his own way the next night at Providence Park with a 94th minute winner to defeat D.C. United.
“It was huge,” Portland captain Will Johnson told reporters after the 3-2 triumph handed the Timbers their first win of the season. “The relief and the feeling that you feel when you score a 94th-minute winner like that is something that is hard to put into words. It’s why you play the game. It’s the best feeling in the world, it’s fantastic. You kind of black out, nothing else matters and you just start running around going crazy. It’s a blur, but it’s fun. That’s why we play.”