Maybe MLS needs “League Designated Player” title

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Monday saw a strange chain of events in the realm of communicating MLS news after one of the initial articles reporting the trade of 22-year old Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti to Portland referred to him as a “League Designated Player.” A minor controversy soon followed, which was understandable given that know one had ever heard of such a designation before. The facts on what exactly this could have been, if it had been, are sketchy at best. News reports have since been amended, and the league called a hasty press conference to put out the fire.

The general tone of this designation, though, would have been something to this effect: MLS facilitates the acquisition of a young player for a team, and that team would be expected to play him regularly. There is much to criticize about MLS’s murky ways of describing and maintaining their salary cap. But this…this has some merit. And it actually would be a great fit for a guy with the Boys in Blue, Roger Torres.

The Urruti trade

The Urruti trade is rather suspicious, given the fact that Toronto pursued the young forward for a considerable amount of time. His acquisition by the Reds was announced in mid-August, and by early September he was being traded? What Toronto gets out of this trade is also suspicious. Bright Dike has shown a flash or two but a first round draft pick in 2015 and some allocation money are also not exactly top-dollar for a guy who was courted by European teams.

Regardless of the why, how, or for what, the concept of bringing in potential international talent is worthwhile, especially when that player presents a talent that the league could use. But as we’ve noticed in this league, some players don’t end up fitting the coach’s model.

A guy who could qualify

In the midst of a largely successful 2013 campaign thus far for Philadelphia Union, one glaring hole in the team’s makeup is in the midfield. I can’t help but wonder if PSP’s writers are tired of having to shove an obligatory paragraph or two in each match report about the dysfunctional midfield. [Editor’s note: Yes.]

Roger Torres is the elephant in the room that we’ve all had to bite our tongues about for the entire season. All indications coming out of preseason training was that Torres looked the part. And yet he has played a paltry 37 minutes in 2013. Obviously he hasn’t fit into John Hackworth’s tactical plan for the team.

Torres is about 6 months younger than Urruti. He would be right in that zone that would be perfect for this type of “League DP” designation, if there was such a thing. Would it not be better for MLS to require that teams who bring in players like Torres to actually use them?

Admirable to promote domestic talent

MLS has a huge role in the development of domestic players towards a successful career for both club and country. The Union’s usual starting XI contains 9 domestic and 2 internationals (Fabinho, Keon Daniel; Sebastian Le Toux has a green card). That kind of percentage was much less in the Nowak regime, and it has been clear that Hackworth wants to help in the development of US talent.

But there is a need for international talent in MLS as well. There can be a premium paid for such talent, given salary structures that can vary greatly among leagues around the world. One would hope that international players brought into MLS bring something different, a quality that augments the squad already in place.

Torres seems to be that kind of player. The Ferreira’s, Morales’, and Rosales’ of MLS have been essential parts of winning teams for years now, and the expectation from the Union’s first year was that Torres could develop into that player. He has shown creativity many times when on the pitch. You could say the same thing for Kleberson, with the difference being that the Brazilian midfielder is on the opposite end of his career path and is costing 4 times Torres’ wage.

But the youthful Colombian hasn’t been given a legitimate chance this year. The situation is quite opaque, but the only way Torres could ever develop into a player that benefits both the Union and MLS in the long term is to play.

Play or trade

Perhaps the league needs to consider holding teams accountable for their international signings. If you’re going to sign an Urruti, either use him, or the league will broker a trade that doesn’t benefit you long-term. If you look at the Urruti-to-Portland trade, it’s not exactly the type of deal I’d want to do if I was Tim Leiweke or Ryan Nelsen.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had discussions with Union fans where the sentiment was, “If they’re not going to use Roger, trade him to someone who will.” That was the gist of this phantom “League DP” label. Maybe the League needs this kind of accountability for teams who keep talented players that don’t fit their plans. If you’re going to pay them, play them.


  1. I actually played last night

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    After NYCFC comes in…. do you think the reigns will come off? It is WAY to obvious that the MLS is picking anc choosing where guys are going, and which teams get better trades, etc. I get that you need TV ratings and having high profile names in places like LA, NY, Seattle and Portland, all help with that. But if I am half the other teams in this league it all just seems like a conspiracy.

    Regardless… I have a question for everyone: Do you think the Union could have been one of “in” teams in MLS? Like a Portland. Getting players, or at least a shot at players… but chose not to spend the money? I think MLS loved the U to start but now realize they aren’t interested… and are just ignoring them. NOTE: I am not saying this is why the Union aren’t successful… I am just throwing it out there.

    • I think the front office is plenty interested in the Union, just for different reasons than those clubs you cited. The Union’s business model is completely different from those other clubs. The affiliation with lower-division clubs and Union High School certainly have the league’s attention. The Union are trying to grow and sell talent to make money, rather than import talent and, well, win. If anything, I guess that means the league would be less likely to ‘help’ bring in a big name to Philly.

    • I believe there are 2 major differences between Philly and teams in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver to a lesser extent. 1st is the pre-MLS existence of a team, which also means the existence of a fan-base, or at least awareness of a team. The SoBs were founded to convince the league there were fans here, but there was no team, so the organization is building from scratch. They did the right thing and built a stadium right away, which is more beneficial long-term but probably costs them more money right away, just like any new business. So while the fans have been great and attendance is very high, the numbers have dipped a bit indicating that the “newness” of the team is wearing off. Which brings me to number 2: the non-existence of major sports teams. The Mariners are terrible, and the Seahwaks only play at home on 8 Sundays in the fall. So from February through September the Sounders are it for Seattle. Same with Portland, except it’s ONLY the Blazers, who play inside and is often a different type of fan-base than soccer. The Union have to fight with the Phils, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, and I guarantee most fans of the Union follow one or more of those very closely.
      So the Union are building from scratch and when they become relevant in the MLS Cup picture I’m sure the league will really push that story, but for now Portland and Seattle continue to draw the fans, and loud, packed stadiums look much better on TV (San Jose’s college stadium on Sunday didn’t look good for MLS).

  3. crosswiredmind says:

    It seems that the idea of Roger Torres has become bigger than the reality of Roger Torres. He had shown flashes in the past, but in general the weak points of his game have been forgotten in the haze that our current situation has created.

    • I couldn’t agree or disagree more at the same time.

      Agree: His skill is being mythologized.

      Disagree: We STILL need to give him a shot. It’s just frustrating from the perspective of getting the same thing every week. In fact isn’t that the famous definition of crazy.

      Torres? Kleberson? Are these guys the answer? I don’t know. But I’d rather find out than continue play with what I know doesn’t work.

      Also put Le Toux back on the right.

      • I agree that Torres deserves a start after some really really disappointing midfield play this season. That aside, EVERY TEAM in the league knows that RT isn’t getting playing time and typically isn’t in the 11. If he was as talented as his hyped to be, someone would have snapped him up. He’s young and doesn’t have a high salary [120k – roughly league ave.].
        I will say that RT is talented, but his size [or lack there of] is a severe handicap in a physical league.

      • *typically in the 18. correction.

      • I wish just saying something over and over again would make it happen:

        Put Le Toux back on the right; he should have moved back there as soon as it was clear he couldn’t play on the left. Give one of our other central midfielders a chance; it is clear that the current central midfield is not working.

        I was reminded of this frustration when I was listening to the podcast; it almost seemed like they didn’t even want to talk about these two glaring obvious issues because its been a problem for what seems like months and for some reason the coaching staff is not interested in rectifying the situation.

    • If he his idealized it is because he is symbolic of another path the Union could have taken. A creative midfielder who can come up with some pretty passes. You will notice that recently the cries for Roger have died down as people are resigned to the fact he is not going to play. Unfortunately for the Union those cries have been replaced by cries of play Kleberson. So now that you have a Brazilian World Cup winner on your bench those cries for “Why don’t you play that guy.” Aren’t going away anytime soon.

      As for Roger’s actual ability, even if he was bad, like Danny Cruz bad, and he spends 85 minutes of “What the HELL are you doing?!?!?!?!” That still leaves up with 5 minutes of beautifully weighted balls to Jack Mac in the box… And no one else in the legion of mediocre midfielders can claim that.

    • The same could be said for Okugo. The problem as others have stated is we all know the midfield we have been rolling out has not been cutting it. Move LeToux back to the right. Put kleberson or Okugo in the middle and put someone on the left. (I would be in favor of giving Okugo a chance but we have no long term CB coverage, and this is why I was against the Garfan trade, because he was the only person on the team I liked on the left wing)

  4. Who is that in the photo that came with this post? He looks vaguely familiar. Roger someone I think. Wasn’t he with the Union a while ago. He used to control the ball, be creative and distribute to the forwards and down the wings. It’s a good thing the Union doesn’t need anyone like that, the way their are attacking other teams and scoring goals.

  5. Stats
    M. Farfan: 5874 Minutes played, 4 Goals, 9 assists
    K. Daniel: 4010 Minutes played, 2 Goals, 4 assists
    R. Torres: 2107 Minutes played, 3 Goals, 10 assists

    stats dont lie, how MF and KD keep getting a run out and not producing is beyond me

  6. Southside Johnny says:

    That, OM, is an eye opener. Of course the reason Hackworth’s decision making is beyond you is that you are approaching the situation from a rational, informed point of view and he is, well, who the hell knows what he is doing.

  7. Last few years we had reserve matches. Nothing this year?! Then Torres could have played a bit more …

  8. First, I would have called Beckham the League Designated Player…
    Second, that a play has a green card should not remove them from international status; domestic players don’t need a green card.

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