MLS Designated Player Dissection: The breaking out of the 'lesser DPs'

Fabián Castillo, Alvaro Fernández, Diego Chará reveal the effectiveness of being economical.

When one analyzes the recently released 2011 MLS salaries, the contracts of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Rafa Márquez instantly catch the eye. The illustrious triumvirate is guaranteed an astonishing 21% of the league’s total compensation. But at this point those bloated deals are already common knowledge. The earnings of MLS’s 'lesser' Designated Players are what is truly intriguing.

What separates a DP from his peers is a somewhat muddled matter. The pay of Brian Ching and Shalrie Joseph, for example, seemingly exceeds the threshold that separates the DPs and normal players. Yet, there is still no indication that they are Designated Players despite their hefty salaries. Conversely, Fabián Castillo garners the DP moniker while receiving a pittance: $40,000 a year. His label – like many of the DPs on meager wages – comes from the robust transfer fee doled out by his club to acquire his services. This reason, though, doesn’t solve the puzzling $170,000 earned by Omar Bravo who was signed as a free agent by Sporting Kansas City.

While the records of the MLS office may be opaque, a few of these DPs have revealed that they could be the answers to the league’s spendthrifts. Alvaro Fernández, Diego Chará, and Castillo have all performed admirably, their play incongruent with the combined $720,00 that the group earns. The stellar matches of the first three from this weekend illustrated that the trio can match those of the lustrous DPs on the New York Red Bulls or Los Angeles Galaxy.

Apologies to Andy Najar and Juan Agudelo, but Castillo is currently MLS’s most dangerous teenager. The 18-year-old Colombian orchestrated a decisive two-goal victory over the Philadelphia Union, assisting on Brek Shea’s breakthrough before heading past Faryd Mondragon to closeout the first half (and effectively the match).

FC Dallas’ season seemed destined for disappointment when reigning league MVP David Ferreira broke his ankle a few weeks back. His young compatriot, however, has seamlessly filled the void created by the diminutive playmaker’s absence, propelling the Hoops back into the thick of the Western Conference standings.

“He is definitely a difference-maker for us and at this point in time,” said his head coach Schellas Hyndman after Saturday’s victory. “I think what we will see from Fabián is just continued growth in his play.”

The youngest ever Designated Player, Castillo has no precedent in MLS. Fredy Montero, for instance, was only upgraded to DP status after two electrifying seasons in Seattle. Castillo signifies the possible future of the mechanism that was originally expected to only attract big names from abroad, players with decorated backgrounds, but limited potential.

“Every time you see him give a ball away, you think, ‘Oh my God, how could he do that?’” Hyndman said about Castillo. “And then he comes back and does something really outstanding.”

Fernández is another player with tremendous prospects. Arriving midseason after competing in South Africa with Uruguay, El Flaco struggled with the Sounders in 2010 and during the start of the current campaign, causing questions to emerge over whether a DP with marginal pay was the correct direction for his franchise.

Like Dallas, Seattle has experienced a long-term injury to one of its key players with Steve Zakuani being out due to the infamous Brian Mullan tackle. Luckily, Fernández has flourished in his increased time with the opening goal in this weekend’s draw against the Portland Timbers an example of his new confidence.

On the other side of the pitch in the Cascadia Cup was Chará, an unassuming central midfielder who has quickly established himself in the Timbers starting eleven. The Colombian’s style is reminiscent of Julian de Guzman, another small DP plying his trade at holding midfield. His salary, however, does not reflect that of the Canadian. While de Guzman will earn just over $1,900,000 this season, Chará can expect about $144,000 in checks to arrive in his mailbox.

It’s impossible to criticize the play of Beckham, Henry, and Márquez as all have been phenomenal this season. But in terms of MLS, the three are players that are largely attainable only to those clubs that currently own them. For those more frugal clubs – or the other 16 franchises in the league – the route taken by Dallas, Seattle, and Portland is the best way to maximize the DP mechanism.

Juan Pablo Ángel (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Started, played 89 minutes in 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union.

Did not start, played final 29 minutes in 4-1 victory against Sporting Kansas City, and scored in the 64th minute.

Ángel has been deemed the key to LA’s aspirations for this season. In order for the club to mount a challenge on the Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup, the Colombian needs to somewhat replicate the production of Edson Buddle who transferred to Europe after starring for the Gals in 2010. The goal against SKC, his second of the season, should be positive for Ángel’s form.

David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Was not a member of the Galaxy squad in 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union in order to rest. 

Started, played 90 minutes in 4-1 victory against Sporting Kansas City, and scored in the 87th minute.

Beckham’s curling, free-kick goal was simply astounding, the type of personal skill sparingly seen in MLS. It was magical.

Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union, and scored in the 24th minute.

Started, played 90 minutes in 4-1 victory against Sporting Kansas City, and scored in the 44th and 66th minutes.

LD seemed destined to collect the MLS Player of the Week award until Justin Braun somehow managed to score a hat-trick in an upset of the New York Red Bulls. Donovan may have missed out on the honor, but he vaulted himself to the top of league MVP discussion.

Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-2 defeat against Chivas USA, scored in the 21st minute, and was cautioned in the 62nd minute.

The bearded and irritable star has gained few admirers in the media; nonetheless, after scoring five goals in the last five matches, his play should be shielded from any criticism.

Rafael Márquez (New York Red Bulls)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-2 defeat against Chivas USA, and assisted on Thierry Henry’s goal in the 21st minute.

Hans Backe blamed Sunday’s shocking result on a lack of effort and poor communication in the back. While Márquez’s pass to Henry on the Frenchman’s goal was impressive, he and his partner Tim Ream were unable to prevent the normally stunted Chivas attack from putting three past Bouna Coundoul.

Álvaro Fernández (Seattle Sounders)

Started, played 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers, and scored in the 52nd minute.

The Uruguayan was called into his national team for an oncoming friendly against Germany. While the decision was likely unrelated to Fernández’s recent play, the news should only further his recent zeal.

Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders)

Started, played 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers, and assisted on Fernández’s goal.

Montero, up against the Timbers’ towering center-backs, still managed to flick a header onto the open Fernández for Seattle’s breakthrough. The assist was a play that reflected why Sounder fans decided to place the Colombian’s mug on the vast tifo for the rivalry match.

Andrés Mendoza (Columbus Crew)

Did not start, played final 5 minutes in 3-0 defeat against the San Jose Earthquakes.

5 minutes is better than nothing for the Peruvian, struggling to find time after tactical changes and the form of Emilio Rentería brushed him aside.

Branko Bošković (D.C. United)

Was not a member of the Whitecap squad in 1-1 draw against Colorado Rapids due to a torn ACL.

An update on Bošković finally broke: the Montenegrin will likely miss six months as he recovers from a successful surgery.

Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas)

Started, played 65 minutes in 1-0 victory against Toronto FC.

Started, played 67 minutes in 2-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union, assisted on Brek Shea’s goal in the 29th minute, and scored in the 43rd minute.

“I feel comfortable,” Castillo told reporters after his wonderful performance against the Union. “I am playing forward and things are going well and I hope that things continue to go well. Little by little, the team is improving. We are now getting points and we have had many good games.”

Alvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake)

Started, played 90 minutes in 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake.

Saborío has transformed from being one of league’s most potent strikers in 2010 to a player that resembles Mendoza more than an MLS all-star.

Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City)

Was not a member of the SKC squad in 4-1 defeat against the Los Angeles Galaxy due to a hernia injury.

There was an outside chance that Bravo would return by the Galaxy match. Even a substitute appearance by the Mexican might have provided a lift for the beleaguered SKC supporters.

Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-0 defeat against FC Dallas.

Started, played 90 minutes in 2-2 draw against the Chicago Fire, and received a yellow card in the 24th minute for a reckless tackle.

De Guzman has slid back to a more comfortable defensive midfield position this week. His head coach Aron Winter defined his DP’s role as a “back point.”

“There are two sides that he plays in that position,” Winter outlined. “When we don’t have the ball he’s a lock on the door, and when we do have the ball he’s a man that can play soccer and define the game from the left and the right”

Eric Hassli (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Started, played 66 minutes in 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Was not a member of the Whitecap squad in 1-0 defeat against the New England Revolution due to a hamstring injury.

Hassli and Vancouver has lost the verve of their early matches. The Frenchman has gone goalless since his horror red for taking his shirt off in celebration despite already having a previous booking.

Diego Chará (Portland Timbers)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-1 draw against the Seattle Sounders.

Chará, while possessing a fluid passing ability, has been able to adapt so easily to the Timber lineup by providing Portland with a central midfielder that can diligently work by Jack Jewsbury’s side. 

For wry non sequiturs follow correspondent Avery Raimondo on Twitter @averyraimondo

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