We’ll call this the Designated Report Halftime Show. I’ve written about eleven teams in the league, with another eleven left in the series counting the two 2017 expansion sides. What better way to mark the midpoint then the one team in the DP era that folded?
I’ll save my Def Comedy Jam-style routine about Chivas USA’s attendance for another day. The Goats were a once-proud franchise with a brief period of success. The club boasted very good players, such as Mexican international Claudio Suarez and Venezuelan international Giancarlo Maldanado. Chivas USA also provided key development for future USMNT regulars like Brad Guzan, Jonathan Bornstein, Sacha Kljestan, and Juan Agudelo. Their history included respected managers like Thomas Rongen, Bob Bradley, and Preki. However, the club folded after ten years amidst ownership turmoil and a lack of interest from fans.
I won’t try to make too many lessons for Minnesota off of Chivas USA’s signings. By the time the club starting signing DPs, it was clear that ownership wasn’t looking for on-field success, and we all hope Minnesota will try to win. That said, there are some interesting lessons to take away from the Chivas debacle, particularly relating to the Designated Player rule.
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: B-
Real Salt Lake: B
Chivas USA (founded 2004)
Juan Pablo Ŕngel (2011-2012)
Age When Signed: 35
Average Base Salary per Season: $675,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.550
Here we go again! The Colombian striker played in his home nation and Argentina before scoring 62 goals in six years with Aston Villa. He headed to New York at age 31, scoring 19 goals in his debut year before getting plagued by injuries and falling off the pace from there. After RBNY let Ángel go, Los Angeles snagged him in the Re-Entry Draft. Across 22 matches that spring and summer, Ángel scored 3 goals, failing to connect with Donovan up front despite the team being in the hunt for the Supporters’ Shield. On August 17, he was traded to Chivas USA for a third-round pick in the following year’s Supplemental Draft.
Returning to his role as the primary goalscorer after fading to the shadows with the Galaxy, Ángel scored 7 goals in just nine games to close out the 2011 season (just two goals behind the team leader from the whole season). This despite the club losing 6 matches and tying another 2 along that stretch. He returned for 2012 and again led Chivas in goals scored with 4. Yep, their leading goalscorer for the entire season had four goals. Viva Chivas USA, baby.
Ángel ended up going undrafted in the post-2012 Re-Entry Draft. He then signed with his first club (Nacional), taking a 90% pay cut to retire at home in 2014.
Ángel was a lone bright spot down the final stretch and was able to reinvigorate his MLS career one last time with Chivas. His four-goal output in 2012 had as much to do with a lack of playing time (nine starts and 19 appearances) as it did due to a faulty system. Still, his 2011 stretch was something to behold.
Age When Signed: 28
Average Base Salary per Season: $141,667
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.039
The Ecuadorian holding midfielder started at Sociedad Deportiva Aucas, playing 122 matches across 9 seasons through 2008 (age 25). He bounced around to a couple of mid-table Ecuadorian teams before Deportivo Quito signed him, making him a key part of their starting midfield. He played 136 matches over three years, scoring 10 goals and helping Quito win the Ecuadorian Serie A. Internationally, he got his first senior cap in 2008 and worked his way in and out of the picture with La Tri.
Just days after winning the league, Minda signed with Chivas USA after a transfer. He was able to plug in as a defensive midfielder, providing stability and immediately becoming a leader for the Goats. Minda scored a pair of goals during his three seasons in Los Angeles, helping mentor players like Marco Delgado. He also ended up with a whopping 31 yellow cards across just 58 games. For comparison’s sake, the DP with the most yellow cards (Landon Donovan) had 33 yellows…in 126 appearances. That said, Minda only earned one red card in his time. Most impressively, Minda was called up for the 2014 World Cup, starting the final two matches (which Ecuador won and drew against Honduras and France, respectively) in group play.
Minda’s contract expired at the end of 2014. Rather than have his rights sent through the MLS Dispersal Draft, Minda signed a two-year deal with Barcelona SC in Ecuador. He’s been a part of the midfield rotation since and figures to have another couple of years on his legs.
In my opinion, here’s a player who would have gotten all of the respect he deserved had he played for a bigger club. Not the sexiest type of player by any means, Minda was exactly what managers look for from a number 6. Partner him with a Bradley or a Pirlo and he’d likely be as respected as Dax McCarty in this league. His low salary doesn’t hurt his grade one bit.
Age When Signed: 33
Average Base Salary per Season: $495,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.250
Having played with New England since 2003, Joseph signed a DP deal before the 2012 season to help anchor the Revolution 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 showing notable aging, Joseph made just 12 appearances with Chivas. He scored twice and added an assist, playing every minute of those 12 matches alongside Minda (and, in some cases, making up for Minda’s absences due to suspensions and international duty).
Joseph 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.
Joseph was surplus to Chivas’ needs as it turned out. His salary figure was large for the team’s relatively small budget and he didn’t provide any upside or spark to the club. For a 12-match rental, one would expect more.
Age When Signed: 20
Average Base Salary per Season: $141,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.560
Torres began his youth career with Chivas Guadalajara at the age of 8, eventually making his senior debut at 17 after serving as the U-17 side’s captain. In his first full Clausura season in 2011, Torres (nicknamed “El Cubo” for the size of his head) finished with 6 goals in 19 matches, second-best on the team. However, minutes were sparse for the young Torres, and with ownership looking to add a greater Mexican presence to the USA chapter, he was sent on loan in July 2013.
While it’s a bit of an unknown why he was considered a DP (considering his low cap figure and his loan status), Torres hit the league running. He scored 7 goals and added 1 assist in 15 matches, turning heads along the way. His loan was continued for 2014, and Cubo kept on scoring, becoming the MLS all-time Mexican-born scoring leader in July with 17 goals. Most notably, Torres scored in 6 consecutive matches during June and July, tying the club record for goals scored in a year on July 20th with his 14th, ultimately earning him an All-Star appearance. As the season progressed, defenses caught up to Torres and held him to just one more goal during the rest of the season. He made his senior Mexican National Team debut in 2014, scoring his first goal in a friendly against Panama in October.
We’ll talk about this next week. Let’s just stay happy for a while.
Torres’ time in Chivas was everything the league and club could hope for. He was a rising talent who earned national team minutes due to his play in MLS, scoring goals at a very prolific rate and serving as one of the best players in the club’s dark second-half of the decade. More on Torres after this.
Age When Signed: 33
Average Base Salary per Season: $450,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.462
The Argentine attacking midfielder starting with Newell’s Old Boys, making his debut at 18 and scoring 30 goals across 119 matches. He signed with Dutch giants Ajax in 2004, earning a respectable 63 appearances over three seasons and refining his game as a distributor. At this point, he also made 10 caps for the Argentina National team, scoring the match-winning goal in a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Peru. He moved on to home country side River Plate after a $2.0 million transfer fee, again earning 64 appearances in 3 seasons. While he was close to signing with Mexican club Querétero in January 2011, the deal fell through. He went on trial with Seattle Sounders, ultimately signing on and assisting on 13 goals before winning MLS Newcomer of the Year. After another couple impressive years, he was traded to Chivas USA to free up a DP spot for Seattle.
True to form, Rosales acted as a chief distributor when healthy. In 21 appearances (16 starts) with Chivas, Rosales added 8 assists, providing impressive and consistent key passes to Torres and co. He was traded in August to Vancouver for Nigel Reo-Coker.
Rosales finished off his DP deal with Vancouver before deciding to restructure his deal before 2015, avoiding the Re-Entry Draft. He was traded this past February for Blas Pérez, and has been a steady contributor off the bench for FC Dallas.
When healthy, Morales was the spark plug to an impressive run of goalscoring during the summer. He’s a respected veteran in the league who continued his usual prolific ways with Chivas.
Average Signing Age: 29.8
Average Base Salary: $380,533
Average Grade: B-
As the mixed-metaphor goes, “even a blind squirrel can tell time twice in a day.” There are plenty of well-executed think-pieces about why the franchise folded, but in the context of Designated Players, there are two lessons that we can take from this cautionary tale, with both serving as lessons of stability.
I’m not saying that the rule saved the league — by the time 2007 rolled around, the league was starting to stabilize. However, the contraction of both Florida teams before the 2002 season showed that it would be hard work to keep a young league afloat (NASL fans can relate with recent club turnover). The Tampa Bay Mutiny had been a founding member, while the Miami Fusion only played for three seasons (after paying a $20 million expansion fee, if you’ll believe it). That said, both teams were operating in the red, and the league was forced to cut back to 10 teams. Having Designated Players isn’t a perfect science, but it does offer a carrot for owners to chase after. For richer owners, they can get the next Beckham, Henry, or Drogba. For the smaller-market owners, they’re searching for savvy pickups like Mauro Diaz, Torres, or Javier Morales. Compared to the neglectful ownership of Tampa Bay and the league-run Miami side, any team can hit a jackpot without hurting their salary cap.
What went wrong with Chivas USA? Quite a bit. Somewhat similarly to the NASL’s current head-scratcher of Rayo OKC, the parent club lost interest after seeing dwindling results and a lack of interest in the Chivas brand across Los Angeles. Chivas Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara and his then-wife (not Sofia Vergara, I checked) became the sole owners of the club in 2012 and immediately looked to build a stronger Mexican presence in the club. His interest didn’t last long. Just look at the opening day XI for their final season.
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s former Jacksonville Armada shutout-helper and current Carolina RailHawk Matt Fondy up top. You have USMNT vet Carlos Bocanegra playing his final season, then-rookie Tommy McNamara on the wing, journeyman goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, Rosales, Minda, and others forming a baffling mix of end-of-career players and raw prospects.
The one bright spot of Vergara’s involvement was the loan of Torres to the LA side, providing a marketable figure who was able to put up incredible numbers despite a floundering team around him. It certainly wasn’t a pretty downfall, but it’s entirely possible that the ability to bring in a player like Torres kept ownership interested in the club for another year or two. The club was nothing short of a disaster by the end, but their last glimmer of hope was a young Designated Player.
Anyway, back to the usual currently-operating franchises next week. We aren’t done talking about Cubo.
Next week: Houston Dynamo