As far as MLS’s initial teams go, the slowest to join the Designated Player Party (ain’t no party like a DPP) was the Colorado Rapids. To their credit, the miracle Rapids were able to win the MLS Cup in 2010 without making a major signing (though they did take former SKC DP Claudio Lopez, albeit without using a slot on him due to a lowered salary figure). That team stuck to the organization’s usual method of roster-building: loaded with league veterans with a smattering of prospects earning major minutes. (Fun fact: two of Colorado’s goalkeepers on that title-winning team are in NASL right now. Guess them in the comments below!)
Instead, the Rapids joined the DPP in 2013. While they aren’t one of the sexiest markets in the league, Denver is far from the smallest market that MLS has to offer. In recent years, they’ve been linked to players like Carlos Vela, Alan Pulido, and Carlos Puyol to no avail. Much like Columbus, these players are asked to play into the system rather than win over the spotlight. It’s not every player’s goal, but for those looking to win titles and get regular minutes, this isn’t a bad way to join the league. With only five DPs (and four currently on the roster), will the Rapids’ grade be mile high?
All transfer sum numbers from Transfermarkt.
All salaries thanks to MLS Players Union surveys.
An asterisk (*) indicates a player who signed their DP deal mid-tenure with club.
Introduction to Series and Updating Chart of Profiled Clubs
DC United: C
FC Dallas: C+
Columbus Crew: B
Sporting KC: B-
New York Red Bulls: B-
San Jose Earthquakes: C
New England Revolution: C+
Los Angeles Galaxy: B+
Chicago Fire: C-
Colorado Rapids (founded 1996)
Age When Signed: 24
Average Base Salary per Season: $256,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.423
The Panamanian forward signed with home-nation club Chepo FC at 14, quickly turning heads like few from his country ever had before. He was twice brought in by Manchester United to try to find him a spot in their ranks before an injury kept him from finalizing a deal. Amidst this interest, Torres went on loans to teams in Panama, Colombia, and Argentina, allowing him to broaden his experience while keeping him linked to Chepo. Finally, the club sold him to national rivals San Francisco FC in 2011, where he lasted one season before another move, this time to Zamora FC (Venezuela). With Zamora, Torres truly broke out, scoring 32 goals in 68 appearances and fully asserting himself as a regular presence with Panama’s national team in the 2011 Gold Cup. By the end of his tenure, he secured a place as the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer.
After sitting out the DP Party for six years, Colorado finally joined in by signing Torres in August 2013. He played all but two of the remaining games that year, only missing games for international duty. He scored his first goal in October against Seattle and two weeks later a brace earned him a MLS Player of the Week nod. Torres seemed poised for a breakout 2014 (especially as the team declined to bring in any more forwards during the offseason), but the emergence of Deshorn Brown and Vicente Sanchez put Torres on the bench more often than not, starting only 11 of his 23 appearances. In turn, he scored just three goals and added a single assist, struggling to work his way into the squad. He found more regular playing time the next year but with mixed results, scoring only three goals and adding three assists. The Rapids, meanwhile, were knocked out early in the 2013 playoffs and missed out entirely in 2014 and 2015. During the 2015 season, Torres was bought down by TAM as the team looked to find attacking reinforcements, further sealing his fate and forcing him to look for his next move.
Colorado declined to offer Torres a new contract, allowing him to move back to Zamora on a free transfer. A rejuvenated Torres scored 22 goals in 23 games, raising his stock and even sparking rumors at an MLS return (with DC United). Instead, Torres signed with FC Lausanne-Sport in Switzerland in early July, giving him his first shot at European competition a decade after his Manchester trials.
Torres always had the potential to be a top-ten MLS striker but failed to put it all together. Having been brought in by Oscar Pareja, it was clear that he didn’t fit into Pablo Mastroeni’s new system during the 2014 season. Despite coming back for another spin in ’15, he looked out of sorts and had lost his place to lesser talent. Under another game plan, it could’ve been a very productive marriage. Instead, it’s one of MLS’s biggest “what-if” scenarios in the DP ranks.
Age When Signed: 21
Average Base Salary per Season: $75,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.247
A diminutive wide-midfielder from Argentina, Ramirez came up the ranks with Argentinos Juniors, making his professional debut at 17. It took a year of irregular time for him to score a goal, netting one against Racing in 2012. Across 73 matches, he began to work himself into a role as an energizing presence, showing flashes of promise out wide.
Ramirez was signed in February 2015 as a young Designated Player, a rule that encourages teams to sign younger talent by lessening their cap hit. He got his first start in the club’s third match of the year, adding his first assist in his third start in a 4-0 win against FC Dallas. He ended up starting 15 of his 27 appearances in his first year, scoring a goal in a Rocky Mountain Cup victory over Real Salt Lake and adding a pair of assists against SKC in a 16-minute substitute appearance. However, it was clear that the young Ramirez had plenty of raw potential that needed polish. With rumors of a certain USMNT goalkeeper being available trickling into Denver during the winter, Colorado saw it as a chance to send Ramirez out on loan. He earned 16 appearances with Spanish Segunda side Almería, scoring once before his loan expired in July. He immediately went on a second loan, this time to Argentine club Talleres, which kicks off their season in August.
Ramirez is an exciting player who was too raw to move the needle for Colorado last year. His results came at the expense of Dillon Powers, who’s seen his playing time slashed in recent years (though one could argue that to be a compliment for Ramirez). Either way, the loan stint should help him to grow, and in a league that rewards young wing talent, he could truly flourish.
Age When Signed: 31
Average Base Salary per Season: $1,100,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.411
Unlike countryman Robbie Keane, Doyle wasn’t a highly sought-after prospect in Ireland. He was signed as a free agent at 18, making his debut in the League of Ireland in 2002. After a scoreless season, Doyle joined Cork City the next year, converting from his initial role as a right winger to the striker spot where he’s made his career. In two seasons, Doyle scored 25 goals, earning a move to then-Championship side Reading in 2005. He scored 19 goals in a breakout season, helping Reading snatch their first Premier League berth. He didn’t slow down from there, finishing as a runner-up for the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2007 to Cesc Fŕbregas and turning down moves to clubs like Aston Villa despite Reading’s relegation in 2008. He moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2009 as they moved to the Premier League for a $7 million transfer fee, leading the club with 9 goals as they stayed in the top flight. However, as the club was relegated in consecutive years, his wages were too high, seeing him loaned to QPR and Crystal Palace.
Doyle agreed to a contract with Colorado in March 2015, joining the club at the end of Wolves’ season in May. He scored in his seventh appearance with the club, propelling himself to regular minutes as he netted 5 goals and 2 assists in his first year. He came back in 2016 and struggled in his first three matches before international duty and a horrific injury kept him out for a month. He returned as a sub and scored a goal in a 12-minute appearance, immediately catapulting him into the starting lineup again where he’s been all year. In MLS play, he has 4 goals and 2 assists.
When he’s on the field, he’s been a consummate team player, buying into a system and helping build up the players around him. His goal numbers may be lower than one would hope from a single-striker, but those should come with time. He’s teamed up well with Jermaine Jones to solidify the attacking half of their spine.
Age When Signed: 27
Average Base Salary per Season: $1,575,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.470
The Albanian international was signed to Zürich’s academy when he was 10 years old, making his professional debut at 18 in league play. A couple of loan stints saw him to 21 years old, where he was sold to Neuchâtel Xamax, who in turn sent him on loan to Aarau in 2011. He finally broke out, scoring 17 goals in 26 appearances to be the league’s runner-up in the Golden Boot race. He signed with Grasshopper that offseason, leading the league in his second year with 19 goals before a move to Champions League contender FC Basel. Again, he paced the league to the tune of 22 goals, earning claim across Europe for his goal scoring. With the emergence of wünderkind Breel Embolo, however, Gashi became expendable.
Gashi signed as a DP in February, giving a versatile asset to the Rapids’ frontline with his ability on both wings and as a striker. In my MLS Haiku Season Preview, I went so far as to call him “the most savvy DP signing of the offseason.” Unfortunately, his first half-season has been inconsistent, with a Euro appearance keeping him from getting into a groove as he’s scored twice and assisted on 4 more goals. Still, he gives a strong presence out wide that the Rapids have lacked in years and figures to be a major asset for them for years to come.
A bit premature? Maybe, but the first 14 games have shown that he can have a direct impact on a game. Further, being one of a handful of MLS players in Euro boosted the club’s profile and has quickly helped them shed an impression of being an undesirable landing spot for players.
Age When Signed: 37
Average Base Salary per Season: $2,100,000
Goals+Assists per 90:
Another in a long string of world-renowned goalkeepers from the United States, Howard got his start with his homestate NY/NJ MetroStars in 1998, becoming a starter in 2001 and holding the post until his sale to Manchester United in 2003. He started 77 games for the Red Devils, eventually being moved to Everton and holding down a spot between the posts for a decade. He started 415 matches for the Toffees, keeping over 100 clean sheets for Everton. Meanwhile, he was a three-time CONCACAF Goalkeeper of the Year (2013-15), representing the U.S. at three World Cups and setting a record for most saves in a World Cup match with 16.
As Howard aged out of a starting spot with Everton, he was linked heavily with New York City, Toronto, and LA Galaxy, assuming that a netminder of Howard’s stature would land in a major market. However, with Colorado at the top of the allocation order, Howard returned to the league with the Rapids. In his first four games, the Rapids are undefeated, earning 6 points and only allowing 3 goals.
Usually I wouldn’t rate a player with less than ten matches under their belt, but I have to admit that I like this signing. When he agreed to terms this March, the club had no idea that they’d be a Supporters Shield contender. In those circumstances, it looked pound-foolish to spend over $2 million a year on an aging goalkeeper. But for a young club looking to make noise into the MLS Cup playoffs, a veteran who’s played in the league (much less the World Cup and the Premier League) is invaluable. He’s shown that he’s still capable of making a key save and has continued to fortify a talented defense. His grade would change with more time, but there’s no telling if that’s for better or for worse. At this point, however, they couldn’t have made a smarter decision to secure their chances at a title chase.
Average Signing Age: 28
Average Base Salary: $1,021,200
Average Grade: B-
True to form, the Rapids round out the first half of this series with a respectable grade. Not flashy (aside from Howard), it looks as if the team has had better luck with their current triad than they did with Torres. Meanwhile, stashing Ramirez away on loan is a good way to maximize the team’s ability now while not losing his potential down the road. It’s hard to imagine that both Doyle and Gashi will be around next season, meaning that Ramirez should have a space to fill on the roster if he’s ready for MLS.
As we move into the post-2000 expansion teams, we’ll be able to take greater notes on how Minnesota should approach using their DP signings. Teams like Colorado already had a decade under their belts to establish a franchise and an identity before signing Designated Players. For the rest of these clubs, however, their identities were closely tied to these marquee additions, giving a wider range of results from feast to famine. Buckle in: this is going to get interesting.
Next week: Real Salt Lake