Over the past six weeks, I’ve been looking at a wide array of MLS clubs and their usage of the Designated Player rule. While each club was an inaugural figure in the league, they’ve varied in their approach to filling the three allocated slots. Some clubs solely sign attackers, figuring to boost their chances at scoring goals with top-tier talent. Others sign players from all over the field, trying to find a balance.
This week’s featured club (New England Revolution) have signed seven such players. All seven play in the center of the pitch, either as a target forward, a defensive midfielder, or a central defender. The theory here is that, by ensuring that the spine of your formation is solid, you can take greater risks on the wings and return play to the middle as needed. How have players like Jermaine Jones, Jerry Bengtson, and Kei Kamara done to prove this theory?
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.
Age When Signed: 22
Average Base Salary per Season: $54,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.454
Signed to the famed Argentine club Rosario Central’s youth academy at 12, Caraglio matured before making his first-team debut in 2007 (just 18 years old). Over his first two seasons, he weaved in and out of regular playing time, making 29 appearances and scoring 7 goals. Just as he was working into a regular starting place, he suffered ligament damage in his knee and missed most of 2009-10 for Rosario Central. He became a coveted target as a 6’2 center forward with an impressive pedigree, joining West Ham United on trial in July 2010 and impressing them enough to finalize a contract. However, he failed the necessary physical and went back to Rosario. Still ready to see what else was beyond Argentina’s borders, Caraglio was again looking to secure a loan for 2011.
After not using the slot for the first four years of the rule, New England finally acquired a Designated Player. Bringing him in on loan in August, Caraglio is a trivia answer for being the lowest-salaried DP in league history. Caraglio made his debut in a start against the late Chivas USA on August 6, continuing to start every week for the remainder of 2011. His breakout performance came in his fourth start, scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw against New York Red Bulls while playing all 90 minutes. After that, he hit a bit of a slump, failing to score until the season finale against Toronto, but he still found a way to add a pair of assists. Ultimately, his 3 goals and 2 assists weren’t enough to swing the course of New England’s season, as the team earned just 7 points (1-7-4) in his 12 matches before his loan expired.
Still just 27 years old, the Argentine has been a regular player across many leagues since leaving the Revs. Upon returning to Rosario, he was sold to Chilean side Rangers, scoring 16 goals in 37 matches to pace the club. He then moved back to Argentina while joining Arsenal de Sarandi, making 30 starts over a year and a half. He then went to Vélez Sarsfield on an 18-month loan, valued at $1.2m as a purchase option for the end of the 2015 season. Despite scoring 8 times in 45 matches and being a key part of the attack for Vélez, the purchase option was declined. He began 2016 with Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico, having moved to Tijuana for $750,000 on June 12.
On a dormant Revolution team, Caraglio found the way to the scoresheet five times in just 12 games. Being paid at around the league minimum, he provided great value and gave a spark to the club, single-handedly providing some results along the way.
Age When Signed: 25
Average Base Salary per Season: $144,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.161
At 6’1, the Honduran international proved to be a consistent font of goalscoring at the striker position. Playing for Honduran side Vida, Bengtson notched 36 goals in three seasons before the age of 24, culminating in his first international cap in 2010 for a friendly against Venezuela. In 2011, he made a move to national giant Motagua, continuing his form and scoring 26 goals over 54 matches. He continued to feature for the Honduran men’s national team, playing a major role in the 2011 Gold Cup, the 2012 Olympics, and World Cup Qualifiers for the looming 2014 tournament.
New England brought Bengtson into the fold during the summer transfer window in 2012, buying him for an unknown transfer fee. He made an immediate impact, scoring as a substitute in his debut against New York Red Bulls. After another sub appearance followed by a four-week absence for the Olympics, Bengtson started to see regular starting minutes for the Revs. However, he was unable to capitalize, only scoring once more for the rest of the season. Likewise, he only scored once in 2013, tallying in the season opener and becoming an unused sub by the end of the year. After six subs and one start (and adding a goal) in 2014, he was loaned out to Belgrano in Argentina for the rest of 2014 and the start of 2015.
Bengtson was released from his contract upon his return, ultimately landing with Iranian side Persepolis F.C. He made 19 appearances in his first year, returning to form (somewhat) with 7 goals. His goal in an international friendly against Guatemala was his first in over 19 months.
Bengtson came to New England with high hopes, as fans thought he could be a shrewd addition to infuse a floundering attack. Between frequent international duty and an array of injuries, he missed a fair amount of time. More damning is the fact that, when he could make it onto the field, Bengtson failed to make an impact on the game. His low salary figure saves him from an F grade.
Age When Signed*: 33
Average Base Salary per Season: $495,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.243
A giant in the midfield, Joseph went to college at Bryant & Stratton as well as St. John’s University before graduating in 2002. His play and potential were rewarded when he was selected by New England with the 14th pick in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft (also taken in the second round that year: current Minnesota United assistant coach Ian Fuller and current Indy Eleven goalkeeper Jon Busch). Joseph sat out the 2002 season, hoping to play abroad but failing to land a contract with a European club. The Grenadian ended up making his debut in 2003, and it wasn’t long before he was seen as one of MLS’ best central midfielders, earning his first MLS Best XI nod in 2005. Despite repeated transfer approaches from overseas (most notably two offers from Celtic FC in consecutive years), Joseph stayed with the Revolution, making a total of four MLS Best XIs, seven All-Star Games, and was a finalist for the 2009 MLS MVP.
As 2012 approached, New England rewarded Joseph after 243 appearances with the club, making him the club’s third Designated Player. In 18 appearances, he scored once and added three assists, continuing to provide a stabilizing presence to the midfield. However, the team was mired in a third straight losing season, and as the summer transfer window opened, Joseph was traded to Chivas USA for Blair Gavin, a 2013 MLS SuperDraft pick (used on Donnie Smith), and allocation money.
Already on the downside of his career, Joseph made 12 appearances with Chivas and moved to Seattle Sounders in 2013, scoring three goals along the way. He signed with New England in 2014, failing to make an appearance but seemingly retiring a Rev. However, he signed with PDL team FC Boston this past May, having made 4 appearances in the lower-division side.
A case of rewarding a player for past performance more than an investment in the future, Joseph didn’t tip the scale one way or the other for the Revs. The Revolution would go two years without signing another DP, focusing on rebuilding a failing club through the draft and savvy signings like Lee Nguyen. While far from being a bad player, Joseph was just another piece of the roster, making his pay raise over-the-top for where he was at in his career at that point.
Age When Signed: 32
Average Base Salary per Season: $2,900,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.281
Born in Frankfurt, Jones was the son of a U.S. Army father, forcing Jones to bounce around from West Germany to Chicago and even Mississippi. At just 7 years old, Jones was brought into the SV Bonames academy, moving up to FV Bad Vilbel (a Frankfurt lower-division club team) before getting picked up by Eintracht Frankfurt’s academy at 13. He bounced between Frankfurt’s first and second teams between 1999-2004, also making his first appearances with the German U21s. He went back and forth between Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt between 2004-07, seeing the field 58 times over the three seasons while putting up 10 goals. Over this time, he was tried all over the field, first figuring to be a right forward before slotting into his customary central (often defensive) midfield position.
After turning down a contract from Frankfurt, Jones signed with Schalke 04 in 2007 as injuries began to keep him off the field. Over his first three seasons with the club, Jones made 70 appearances, and after another slate of missed time with new manager Felix Magath, he was loaned to Premier League side Blackburn Rovers. He would start 15 matches for Rovers, becoming a fan favorite due to his grit and personality. Schalke fought to lock Jones down, welcoming him with open arms as another new manager saw him as a crucial part of the side’s plans. Meanwhile, Jones switched allegiances after 3 friendly appearances with the German national team, making his USMNT debut in 2011 after barely missing the 2010 World Cup due to injury. His consistent play caught the attention of a wider audience, with his most prominent moment of greatness coming against Portugal in the 2014 World Cup. Cue the Simply Sensational Strike!
After a brief stint with Turkish Süper Lig side Be?ikta? and a glowing performance in Brazil with the USMNT, Jones was a highly sought-after commodity across the globe. Once he stated his desire to join MLS, things really became interesting. In an unprecedented move, Jones went to New England in a blind draw between them and Chicago Fire, with a league official choosing his fate in an envelope. He joined the club on August 24, at which point the Revs went on a tear through MLS, earning 25 points (8-1-1) over ten matches, charging to second place in the Eastern Conference. Their tear continued, beating Columbus 7-3 on aggregate in the Conference Semifinals and then over Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls by a total of 4-3. In an instant-classic MLS Cup Final, New England lost to Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 after extra time.
Jones’ value continued to show in 2015, as the club suffered through a five-game losing streak with his absence due to the Gold Cup. The club recovered to finish 5th in the Eastern Conference, setting them up for a Knockout Round fixture against DC United. In stoppage time of a 2-1 match, Jones settled a ball in the box which ultimately bounced off of defender Sean Franklin’s arm. A clear handball, referee Mark Geiger dismissed the infringement and had play continue. Jones charged Geiger, who was some 30+ yards away, and ended up shoving the referee, resulting in a red card and a six-match suspension going into the 2016 season. The Revolution tried to turn this into a negotiation chip, and Jones claimed they offered him a tenth of his previous salary. In the end, he chose to walk.
Over the next four months, Jones’ future was up in the air, with his desire to stay near his family’s home in California negating several European offers. Finally, he agreed to terms with Colorado Rapids on a $600,000 salary. He’s been playing as a #10 for the Rapids, scoring three times (already a career high) and adding two assists in just seven games with Colorado. He continues to see regular minutes with the USMNT, arguably being the United States’ best field player (along with John Brooks, in my opinion) during the recent Copa America Centenario.
Only an MLS Cup defeat kept him from a full A. Head and shoulders above his DP peers for New England, Jones was the fulcrum of the team, and their relative struggles in his absence from 2014-15 and well as post-departure this year show just how important he was to New England. The 2014 Runners-Up finish marks the club’s best finish since 2007, and Jones is a major part of that year’s lore.
Age When Signed*: 30
Average Base Salary per Season: $450,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.000
The Portuguese center back joined FC Basel’s youth ranks at 17, failing to make the first team but training in a world class environment. He bounced around Switzerland and Italy before landing with FC Thun, making the UEFA Champions League and starting six matches for the side. Afterward, he was linked to clubs like Everton, Newcastle, and Rangers before Hearts signed him in 2006. With the Scottish side, he made 58 appearances, anchoring a perennial contender. He returned to Switzerland in 2011, this time with FC St. Gallen and then FC Sion (once St. Gallen was relegated), where he found his playing time sliced despite being in his prime. He was loaned to New England in 2013, where he played every minute and scored twice, ultimately earning MLS Defender of the Year and a full transfer for the 2014 season. He was a part of the Cup run that year, anchoring the defense and become a fixture at the club with his work rate and strong defensive play, as well as his smart distribution.
With rumors swirling that the 30 year old would make a move to Europe once again, New England locked him down with a DP contract before the 2016 season. Having played every minute of his 14 matches thus far, he’s continued to be a solid presence. However, fans were underwhelmed.
As Reddit user MuscleAndHustle put it: “It’s like when your parent honestly tried to get that gift you really wanted but ended up getting the knock off version instead.” New England needed help in the backline, but supporters wanted to see fresh blood added to the club instead of a continuation of the norm. As their current standing as the 8th team in the Eastern Conference indicates, the move may not have been as well-advised. Like the Joseph transaction, this move seemed to reward previous accomplishments over current form, and he has yet to turn the tide on the Revs’ fortunes.
Age When Signed: 26
Average Base Salary per Season: $840,000
Goals+Assists per 90: N/A
Relatively little ink has been devoted to the defensive midfielder from the Ivory Coast. He made his international debut in 2011 with Cote d’Ivoire, earning his only national team appearance in a friendly. He came up with Ivorian club Séwé Sports, ultimately moving to Swiss second division side Servette in 2009 and helping the club see promotion to the top flight in 2011. In four years, he made 93 appearances and scored twice, seen as a solid-but-unspectacular part of the lineup in his time. He moved to FC Sion in 2013, making 68 more appearances in three years and ultimately becoming the club’s captain.
On February 1st, Kouassi signed with New England, figuring to slot into the defensive midfield spot vacated by Jermaine Jones’ impending absence. Just seven days later, he tore both his ACL and MCL, forcing himself under the knife. He has yet to see the field for New England and has no established timetable for his club debut.
I’m not even going to try and prognosticate about a guy who hasn’t seen the field yet. It was an unlucky blow for New England to have him pick up a major injury right after signing him, but he’s a player who fills a need at a position and is just entering his prime. I’m curious to see how he’ll fit, and I’ll amend this rating as I go through a couple of recap posts at the conclusion of the series.
Age When Signed: 31
Average Base Salary per Season: $1,000,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.333
We covered Kamara with Columbus’ installment, so I’ll keep it brief in this section. After moving to California as a refugee, Kamara found his legs in Columbus, San Jose, and Kansas City before heading over to England. Playing in the Premier League and the Championship, Kamara returned to MLS in 2015 and tied Sebastian Giovinco for the Golden Boot. He was a fan favorite, signed a DP deal for 2016 with Columbus, had a well-publicized kerfuffle over a penalty kick, and was traded for a record-setting haul in May to New England.
To his credit, Kamara was ready to start again right away in a new system and has played all 540 minutes for New England since his trade. However, his acquisition was met with some head-scratching, as the club had a pair of respected strikers in Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo. This past weekend, he scored a brace against the same Montreal side he had faced in his final Columbus appearance. Kamara finally seems to have found his footing again and looks to help New England recover and return to the post-season.
It’s been an odd marriage between club and player, and Kamara looks out of sorts in the formation. He’s been forced to leave his customary post as a target forward, leaving the box to play defense far more often. His introduction into the lineup has sparked Nguyen to return to his MVP-caliber form from 2014, but it’s hard to imagine that there weren’t better fits for him available once it was clear he would leave Columbus. There’s plenty of season left for him to turn this around, but it hasn’t been pretty so far.
Average Signing Age: 28.4
Average Base Salary: $840,429
Average Grade: C+
With only six DPs who have seen the field, the major (albeit lucky) acquisition of Jermaine Jones makes up for a lot of shaky-at-best signings. New England has used the rule to sign three strikers, three defensive midfielders, and one central defender, showing a clear focus to build through the spine of a team and fill in the periphery with pieces acquired from the Draft, their academy, or other acquisitions. At this point of the Designated Report series, I tend to agree that the center of the field needs the most attention as far as marquee targets. However, their attempts to hit the target have shown some miscalculations. The current trio has potential to be an effective core–it remains to be seen if they can gel together.
Next week: Los Angeles Galaxy