MLS DP Dissection: The Problem In Toronto

Examining the struggles at BMO from a DP perspective.
Church bells and thunder ominously looming in the background, this week the Major League Soccer gravedigger buried the aspirations of many playoff hopefuls this weekend. Toronto FC, despite mathematics not yet completely ruling out their chances, effectively joined the likes of D.C. United and the New England Revolution on their early vacations after Saturday’s loss to the Seattle Sounders.

Midway through the season, TFC splurged on a second designated player – the Canadians signing Mista to complement Julian de Guzman in his first full season with TFC – but both have been disappointments, with neither fulfilling the hopes sparked by their hefty contracts.

Since a frustrating season is now winding down, Toronto must focus on assessing its roster and how it will utilize the DP mechanism. The new players brought in will be vital in proving to the club’s disillusioned fan base that their front office is committed to success.  

The atmosphere up north has chilled. Four years without a playoff appearance have built a simmering anger at BMO Field amidst the usual unwavering support. The red jerseys and fervent songs still persist, but smatterings of empty seats and criticizing Tifos have emerged in one of MLS’s most advertised stadiums.

TFC’s designated players have been criticized for different reasons - with the knocks against the Spaniard easier to summarize. Mista has been an abject bust, a striker yet to score in MLS. He’s seemed at times agitated, at time disinterested, and rarely capable of providing the goals to propel the Reds. Luckily, he was only signed a half-year deal. The tie can be severed when the season concludes on October 23rd.

De Guzman’s situation is much more unique and complicated than Mista’s due to his nationality and guaranteed contract. Arguably the best player for the Canadian national team, De Guzman’s quality performances in Gold Cups and La Liga has not translated to MLS. He’s been one of TFC’s best players this season, but surely not worthy of his $1.7 million salary in the deepest position of MLS. He wins a lion’s share of tackles in the midfield, yet the number of balls that he gives away quickly levels out that contribution.

Most DPs are bemoaned because they are simply bad (see: Denilson or Luis Angel Landin), not because there are players who play at a similarly high level at a fraction of the price. At a small percent of the Canadian’s cost, defensive midfielders like Kyle Beckerman or Shalrie Joseph perform at a level just above that of de Guzman’s.

Further complicating the situation is the presence of Dwayne De Rosario, TFC’s one player among the MLS elite. DeRo is not the player Toronto’s attack revolves around; he is Toronto’s attack. With his strike this weekend, De Rosario is now on 13 goals, two more than any previous season of his career. The captain rightfully believes that he deserves more than the nearly $450,000 he garners a season and celebrated a goal last weekend by gesturing signing a check, a clear message to MLSE, the club’s owners.

Upgrading their star’s contract would be a clear sign to the disgruntled fans that their %116 increase in ticket prices since 2007 would be going to on-field improvement rather than profit.  

MLSE showed that they were aware of the problems in their organization when they fired Director of Soccer Mo Johnston and Head Coach Preki. This doesn’t mean, though, that they have fixed their club.

By the time MLS Cup, which is taking place at BMO Field on November 21st, arrives, Toronto FC should have some sort of direction. They may not have completely decided who will be in the lead positions, but they should be in pursuit of targets. Once these acquisitions have been settled, they will need to analyze their players, starting with the DPs.

Mista should be gone; de Guzman, due to his contract status will likely remain. Assigning a deal worthy of De Rosario’s status will be crucial. Once that is settled, TFC needs to begin their hunt to fill a third designated player slot. Toronto requires help up and down the pitch, but they must finally sign that elusive striker needed to qualify for the playoffs.  

Who will this be? It’s impossible to predict, but the player must be of the quality of the league’s other DP forwards, a pleasure the Red Patch Boys surely deserve.  

Nery Castillo (Chicago Fire)

Did not play in 3-0 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes due to quad injury.

Did not play in 3-0 defeat against FC Dallas.

For a second consecutive week, it’s hard to comment on Castillo. Not much can be said until he returns from his injury.  

Freddie Ljungberg (Chicago Fire)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-0 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes, scored in the 72nd minute, and assisted on Steven Kinney’s and Patrick Nyarko’s goals in the 39th and 92nd minutes, respectively.  

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-0 defeat against FC Dallas.

The first match of the week was probably Ljungberg’s best while wearing red in MLS. He scored after skipping through the cracks of the Quakes’ defense and orchestrated the two other Fire goals.  

Branko Boskovic (D.C. United)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-0 victory against the Colorado Rapids.

In his seventh start for the struggling side, the tidy Montenegrin played in a deeper midfield role, maintaining possession as D.C. won their sixth match of the year.

David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Started, played 64 minutes in 2-1 victory against Chivas USA, and scored in the 39th minute.

Beckham’s trademark curling freekick was phenomenal. Find a highlight. Watch it for yourself.  

Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Started, played 90 minutes in 2-1 victory against Chivas USA.  

This incarnation of the SuperClasico was a strange one for Donovan. During the second-half, he was often keeled over in fatigue and snapped at Michael Stephens on once occasion after the rookie gave away possession.  

Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-0 victory against the Kansas City Wizards.

Angel followed up his goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy last weekend with an innocuous performance against the Wizards. The Colombian had one of his quieter nights of the season.  

Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)

Started, played 74 minutes in 1-0 victory against the Kansas City Wizards.

With only two goals in ten matches, Henry is beginning to warrant criticism. The French striker had an opportunity to alleviate worries about his scoring woes when he ghosted past defenders into the Wizards’ penalty area, but instead of curling his shot into the far corner, his finish bent wide of Jimmy Nielsen’s goal frame.  

Rafael Marquez (New York Red Bulls)

Did not play in 1-0 victory against the Kansas City Wizards due to knee injury.

Reports of a knee injury that would keep him out this weekend made him a surprise inclusion in Hans Backe’s starting eleven. Minutes before the Red Bulls kicked off, however, it was announced that Tony Tchani would be replacing him in the RBNY midfield. New York obviously missed his presence as they were stretched for much of the match. All eyes would have been on the Mexican as reports have emerged on how he’s leading the 13 player rebellion against the country’s soccer federation. 

Geovanni (San Jose Earthquakes)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-0 defeat against the Chicago Fire, and received a caution in the 75th minute.

Did not start, played the final 21 minutes in 0-0 draw against the Columbus Crew.

Geo had a mundane week by the Brazilian’s standards, minimally impacting the awful loss to the Fire and blending in during his substitute appearance against the Crew.  

Alvaro Fernandez (Seattle Sounders)

Started, played 62 minutes in 2-0 victory against C.D. Marathon of Honduras in the CONCACAF Champions League.  

Did not start, played final 22 minutes in 3-2 victory against Toronto FC.

With two matches a week – one continental and one league – the Sounders have split time between Fernandez and Sanna Nyassi.  The plan has worked well thus far; the Uruguayan is a fluid player who meshes well with the rest of the Sounders while Nyassi is a more direct, speedy option.  

Blaise Nkufo (Seattle Sounders)

Did not play in 2-0 victory against C.D. Marathon of Honduras in the CONCACAF Champions League.  

Started, played 77 minutes in 3-2 victory against Toronto FC, and scored in the 26th minute.

A thundering header by Nkufo cemented his status as the most in-form striker in MLS. The Swiss international, who’s scored five goals in four matches, will make the Sounders the most feared lower seed in the 2010 playoffs.  

Seattle manager Sigi Schmid, though, addressed after the victory how Nkufo is more than just the goals.

“He gives us that connection up front,” said Schmid. “He's able to check off, he holds the ball, sometimes you see him take more of - a lot of times you see him just play one- and two-touch stuff. He connects his passes, he knows where people are. That helps us.”

Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-2 defeat against the Seattle Sounders.  

De Guzman had the misfortune of having RSL’s equalizer deflect off of him. The Canadian rushed back to block Javi Morales’ freekick, but it caromed off his arm and into Jon Conway’s goal.  

Mista (Toronto FC)

Did not start, played final 25 minutes in 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League.  

Did not play in 3-2 defeat against the Seattle Sounders.  

I’ve been mean enough to Mista already. I’ll just mention that he didn’t score a goal this week once again.

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