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Designated Players go up for auction

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Julian de Guzman is available.

DPs for sale or rent… rooms to let 50 cents…

OK, apologies to Roger Miller for that one. But, when Major League Soccer released the lists of players its existing 16 teams had made available for Wednesday’s expansion draft, the Designated Players jumped off the page.

The Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers could each max out the three DPs allowed on their rosters in the first three rounds of the draft. Not that either would do that.

Chicago placed Nery Castillo, who was on the books for US$1.7 million last season, and Freddie Ljungberg ($1.3M) out in the shop window. Castillo was a massive bust, scoring exactly, well, er… he didn’t score at all in 2010. And Ljungberg, after an outstanding MLS debut season in 2009 with Seattle, asked for a trade in 2010, got it, and had one or two decent games in Chicago surrounded by a bunch of mediocre efforts.

Toronto put hometown DP Julian de Guzman and Spanish import Mista, who combined for zero goals in MLS games this season, out there for the Whitecaps or Timbers to grab. Mista’s contract has expired, so putting him on the list was simply a numbers game.

Hopes were high when Mexican star Nery Castillo signed with the Chicago Fire. Oh, the best-laid plans of mice and men.

New York, as expected, put Juan Pablo Angel and his expiring contract out there. Angel is still a lethal striker, so there could be some interest. Basically, Angel needs to be moved with Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry chomping up more than US$10 million in salary next season. But, would Vancouver or Portland give a thirtysomething striker, even one who has scored more MLS goals than any other player over the last four season, a deal worth millions?

Seattle put Swiss DP Blaise Nkufo, who scored five times in 13 games, up for auction.

Like Nkufo, Geovanni, formerly of Hull City, had a decent first season in MLS; but San Jose has left him without protection.

At MLS Cup, you couldn’t go to one press conference with either Colorado, FC Dallas or league officials and not hear a question asking if the lack of DPs in the big game was an indictment of the program as a whole.

The answer is no; because there are GMs who made the right decisions with DPs; Marquez, Henry and even David Beckham had massive impacts on their teams when they played. And Geovanni and Nkufo were decent citizens, but are in the numbers game.

But, the expansion draft is an indictment of teams who rushed to the DP bandwagon, signing players for the sake of being able to tell fans “look, we have a Designated Player!” They leapt before the looked. Now, with a tight salary cap, these clubs have to hope for allocation-money relief or acts of mercy from the Whitecaps and/or Timbers.

If anything, this shows just how much of a crapshoot signing a DP is for a general manager. There is no guaranteed success in MLS just because a guy has a name in Europe, South America or Mexico. For every Henry, there is a Castillo.

This is the lesson; the next time your club of choice signs a much-ballyhooed DP, remember this expansion-draft list. Remember the Sargasso Sea of DPs that teams prayed would be taken off their hands.

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