The mid-season DP
Toronto FC have been public in their desire for a big-name striker next season, with recent reports suggesting that Italian Alberto Gilardino has supplanted Jermain Defoe at the top of the club’s list. There’s one hitch – both players are likely to stay in Europe until after the World Cup this summer, and looking at the history of big-money Designated Players, that doesn’t bode well for Toronto FC’s 2014 season.
Gilardino or Defoe would be expected to be on a similar pay grade to the league’s highest-paid player, Clint Dempsey. The Seattle attacker took nine games to register his first goal in MLS, struggling along with other big-name signings to find their feet partway through an MLS season.
Here’s a look at all of the big-money attacking DP acquisitions (those with an annual salary of over one million USD), and how they fared after a mid-season arrival in MLS. The numbers suggest that Gilardino is going to need at least a half-season to become the regular goalscorer that Toronto FC fans are hoping for:
Despite being 33, Robbie Keane actually has a better scoring record this year than last – something that might be related to a full preseason with the Galaxy. The Irishman joined LA midway through 2011 and then spent time on loan at Aston Villa in early 2012, only getting an extended break after last year’s MLS Cup win.
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry joined New York in July 2010 – a month in which they failed to win a game – and only registered 2 goals in 11 league games that season, well short of the 14 in 26 he bagged the following year.
Denílson is the ultimate DP failure. Having already failed to live up to expectations on several continents, the Brazilian made his FC Dallas debut on September 1, 2007. After eight games and only a penalty against Toronto to speak of, along with plenty of frustrated teammates, Denílson left at the end of the season. Unfortunately, his join date of late summer is probably closer to the time of year we can expect Gilardino or Defoe to arrive in Toronto in 2014.
The Sounders’ Clint Dempsey signed up on August 3 of this year. After his arrival sparked a winning run, the Sounders went on a slide at the end of the campaign and need to overturn a 1-goal deficit in Portland this week to progress in the playoffs.
Nery Castillo signed for Chicago on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk in July 2010 but failed to score in 8 games with the Fire. In his best season in Greece, Castillo had 12 goals in 25 games, but the Mexican couldn’t adjust to MLS and moved on at the end of the season.
Danny Koevermans is the exception, having joined Toronto FC at the end of June 2011 and managing 8 goals in 10 games that season. Racked by injuries throughout his Toronto career, his exceptional scoring record couldn’t haul the Reds into playoff contention.
Kenny Miller joined Vancouver in July 2012 but only managed 2 in 13 that year. I wrote off the Scottish veteran going into 2013, but 8 in 21 and some great build-up play have shown the benefit of a full season in the league.
Montreal’s 20-goal striker Marco Di Vaio made his debut in June 2012, but it took a month for him to net the first of 5 in 17 that year as l’Impact missed out on the playoffs. With the benefit of a preseason in Montreal, though, Di Vaio has been lethal in 2013.
Juan Pablo Angel made his debut in May 2007, so he’s more of an early-season signing. The extra time helped, as he was able to hit the ground running – the same applied to Cuauhtémoc Blanco, whose first year with Chicago was his best in three MLS seasons.
Scottish hitman Kris Boyd had the benefit of a full season in Portland in 2012, scoring 7 in 26. That said, his departure certainly hasn’t hurt the Western Conference-leading Timbers, while rivals Seattle signed Obafemi Martins in March and the Nigerian has has 7 in 14 so far this term.
Toronto have become a byword for roster upheaval in MLS, somehow using over 100 players in just a few years of league play. The choice for 2014 is either more upheaval, with space needing to be cleared out to facilitate a big name’s summer arrival, or simply leaving a massive DP-sized gap in the salary cap from the start, sitting on it until the would-be deus ex machina arrives in August.
Neither is ideal, and with Toronto’s current roster it’s difficult to imagine the team will be in playoff contention by then, much less able to provide a Designated Player with the type of service that Gilardino enjoyed in Milan and Florence.
While it’s exciting to hear Toronto’s name tossed around as a legitimate destination for a World Cup winner, fans shouldn’t expect too much from a signing like Gilardino in 2014. You have to admire the board’s ambition – and nobody would turn down a signing like Gila – but you have to wonder if the club’s vast resources should be directed to building a core of the team first, or else that big name can already forget about seeing any playoff action in 2014.