McCarthy's Musings: De Guzman Signing Fits Designated Player Model Uncomfortably

Toronto FC is expected to unveil Canadian international midfielder Julian de Guzman as its first Designated Player before the Sept. 15 roster freeze date. Kyle McCarthy wonders whether de Guzman fits the intended Designated Player model or whether a new model is beginning to emerge.
By Kyle McCarthy

Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman probably wasn't the type of sexy, headline-grabbing player the MLS Board of Governors had in mind when it approved the Designated Player rule in November 2006.

If all goes according to plan over the next few days, de Guzman will sign with Toronto FC and throw into doubt whether that vision of the Designated Player still remains.

That isn't to say that De Guzman isn't a qualified or suitable choice for a sizable deal. TFC has coveted a big-name Canadian player to fill its Designated Player spot and de Guzman's probably about the best player they could find to fit that bill given his age (28) and skill (considerable). De Guzman boasts noteworthy European experience with Deportivo La Coruna (Spain) and Hannover (Germany) and possesses the ability to dominate a MLS game. When he steps onto a MLS field fully fit (think 2010, not 2009), he will instantly become one of the top ten players in the league.

Even with all of the positives de Guzman brings in terms of experience, nationality and ability, there is a lingering sense that his expenditure is one of misplaced extravagance rather than required star wattage.

De Guzman improves Toronto FC's central midfield considerably, but that is the one department where TFC didn't really need to improve. Significant wage earners (and current or former internationals) Dwayne De Rosario, Amado Guevara and Carl Robinson are all best deployed somewhere in central midfield, though the clutter has already forced De Rosario into less palatable roles out wide and up top. As if the existence of three highly paid central midfielders wasn't enough, TFC also boasts budding young talents Sam Cronin and Amadou Sanyang in its engine room.

While it would be foolish to argue against acquiring de Guzman in order to focus on nurturing Cronin or Sanyang, the logjam does beg the question of why such an emphasis was placed on acquiring yet another accomplished central midfielder for an imbalanced side that desperately lacks a top-flight center back, winger or striker. De Guzman's arrival, incidentally, would rob the side of its one true target player in Danny Dichio, who is expected to retire to make the roster and salary budget numbers work. (Note: Dichio's situation was discussed at length in the Monday MLS Breakdown.)

Then there is the purported contract itself. Ridiculous rumors pertaining to shocking sums of money and numerous guaranteed years have permeated through Canadian media reports, with Canadian television channel The Score reporting on its Web site that de Guzman has signed a deal that includes a three-year guarantee surpassed only by David Beckham's five-year deal. If proven true, that's a pretty hefty guarantee for a player who couldn't find a suitable gig in Europe on a free transfer and who could struggle to adapt physically to the rough and tumble MLS.


Dwayne De Rosario | de Guzman's international teammate may deserve pay bump after his arrival

If the reports are more substantive than mere agent puffery, de Guzman's deal might also breed some resentment. Current TFC star De Rosario, who sought a DP contract at the beginning of the campaign and surely isn't worth a mere fraction of de Guzman's pay packet given his significant list of MLS accomplishments, might have a legitimate beef, while other Designated Players not named David Beckham or Cuauhtemoc Blanco could also be put out by the move. Freddie Ljungberg, for example, probably wouldn't look too kindly on being placed on equal or lesser footing with a player with a significantly lesser resume.

De Guzman would also become the second domestic player from the United States or Canada to merit the DP exception (Claudio Reyna earned the tag fitfully in the waning stages of his career with New York), though Americans such as Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson have existed outside the salary structure without the weighty title. The DP tag serves as a means of deflating salaries for the top end of the non-DP talent pool. MLS has taken a hard-line towards improving American player contracts (see Kenny Cooper and Taylor Twellman) to the point where they would reach DP level.

Other players may force MLS to reevaluate that stance using de Guzman as precedent and raise some serious questions in the process. Is the de Guzman signing attributable to a unique confluence of circumstances (a 28-year-old making his MLS debut after being unable to find a European deal and being sought after by his local club) or does it open up a sliver of hope for other American and Canadian players to demand DP money? Does the fact that de Guzman moves the needle among only the hardest of hardcore American and Canadian fans buttress the case of other, lesser-known DP prospects who would primarily contribute on the field? Those are questions MLS is reluctant to answer as it seeks to continue to control costs while improving its product on the field.

Given the circumstances and the considerations in play, one has to wonder whether this deal threatens the best interests of MLS and whether the league could have and should have tried to point TFC in another direction. Though the benefits of acquiring perhaps the best available Canadian player in the prime of his career for a Canadian club are clear, this signing – coupled with Houston's acquisition of Mexican striker Luis Angel Landin – appears to stretch the boundaries of the Designated Player rule to the breaking point. The question, if de Guzman finally consummates the deal, is whether the Canadian international will be the type of game-changing player to make the shift towards a high-salary player with little star appeal worthwhile.

2010 All-Star Game now Reliant on big-name opponent

In a press conference held yesterday, the Houston Dynamo announced Reliant Stadium will host the 2010 MLS All-Star Game. The 70,000-seat venue, which is home to the NFL's Houston Texans, had been the favored venue since Houston was announced at the host city, though Dynamo president Oliver Luck had expressed an interest in hosting the game at Robertson Stadium.

Choosing Reliant Stadium indicates a shift away from the recent history of placing the event in smaller, soccer-specific venues across the league. Those venues emphasized a sell-out over other pressing financial or publicity-related concerns. The event, as designed over the past few years, often provided success on a small scale.


Lionel Messi | MLS will need to entice a club like Barcelona to compete in the All-Star Game

In order to make the transition to a large venue work, MLS will have to attract a club capable of filling enough seats to avoid diluting the match as an event.  Only a top European club (an English or Spanish club would likely be preferable to television partner ESPN) or top Mexican club (former ASG opponent Chivas or Club America, perhaps) will have the cachet to do that. After the past few years of swinging for the fences and ending up with Everton or West Ham United, the pressure is now on MLS to deliver a suitable opponent to transfer that small-scale success into a larger-scale event.

Around The League


- Despite the full slate of international fixtures today, there is one rescheduled match slated for tonight as D.C. United hosts Kansas City in the sole midweek clash.

- United will be without two of its starting defenders with Marc Burch (ankle) joining Dejan Jakovic (hernia) on the treatment table. Both players are expected to miss 2-3 weeks after routine surgery. Clyde Simms started in Jakovic's place in central defense in Saturday's 2-2 draw at FC Dallas and is expected to continue there, while Avery John is the best bet to fill in for Burch (who would have missed this match through suspension anyways) on the left. With Jakovic sidelined, United will almost certainly opt for four at the back.

- Kansas City departed Foxborough for D.C. on Tuesday after spending a couple of extra days in the area in the wake of Saturday's 4-2 win over New England. Considering the Wizards just won their first match since June 13, interim boss Peter Vermes is likely to name the same side that defeated the 10-man Revolution on Saturday night.

- One point to keep in mind while considering United's sterling home record (5-0-5) ahead of this important game for the home side: Kansas City has won road matches in Seattle and Real Salt Lake this season.

- In other Wizards news, the team has shifted its sights to a stadium project located out near the Kansas Speedway and the team's current temporary home at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, according to the Kansas City Star. The Wizards were slated to build at the old Bannister Mall, but those plans took a hit earlier this year.


Freddie Ljungberg | Seattle midfielder ducks rumors about EPL return

- Ljungberg has refused to comment on rumors linking him with an offseason loan move to the English Premier League. Interesting how English clubs have taken notice of Ljungberg after avoiding him like the plague when he was available on a free transfer last year.  Ljungberg's relatively healthy and successful season has perked up that interest considerable.

- Beckham is interested in lending some of his cheese to the cash-needy Montreal bid, according to The New York Times. That sounds like an arranged marriage. Wouldn't Beckham prefer a side within a time zone or two of his Los Angeles crib?

- New York defender Kevin Goldthwaite (hernia surgery) participated in running drills on Tuesday and could be available when New England visits on Sept. 19, according to the Red Bulls' official blog.

- San Jose drew CD Aguila (El Salvador) 0-0 in a friendly on Tuesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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