In 2015 there were 20 new Designated Players in MLS. Of those 20, there were three midfielders that would be considered legends by many. Frank Lampard (NYCFC), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), and Ricardo Kaká (Orlando City). How did these high-profile Designated Players compare in their first seasons?
By the numbers:
It's obvious that Kaká was with his team the longest and put in the most minutes, but by breaking down the stats by minutes played we can get comparable figures.
As we can see from the numbers, Frank Lampard was the player with the highest goals per minute. Kaká was just slightly behind, and Gerrard quite a bit back. Is that a product of Gerrard coming in later than the other two? Was he adapting to a new team or simply ineffective? Let's look at another important stat of a good midfielder: assists.
By that measure, Kaká is the best of the three, with Gerrard coming in a very close second. This can be attributed to the style of play of each within their team scheme, but it is still a window into how they performed. Finally, we have the shot accuracy (based on shots on goal divided by total shots). This tells us the percentage of total shots that were on frame and either went in or challenged the goalkeeper to make a save. Again, Kaká takes the crown, with Gerrard second. More impressive is that the leaders took more shots overall.
From this, we can see that each has contributed to their team. Gerrard did well given his short time in the league, Lampard was the scorer of the group, and Kaká was the best all-around.
Outside the numbers
Lampard didn't make his debut for NYCFC until August, and didn't really find his stride until September. Despite the big reception he received in his first match, it wouldn't be until his fifth match that he would finally score his first MLS goal. He did help as NYCFC made their run later in the season, though they did finish behind fellow expansion club Orlando City. Lampard came in seventh in jersey sales, one of four NYCFC players to make the top 10. Lampard made the MLS All-Star Game as a commissioner's pick.
Gerrard was able to score in his first MLS game against San Jose. Although MLS is an adjustment for these players, they bring an excitement to the game like few can. Like Lampard, Gerrard would adjust and become an effective presence in the midfield with former Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane. Gerrard was second in jersey sales. That's not really a surprise, given that he is considered one of the best to play the game from one of EPL's most storied clubs. Gerrard also made the MLS All-Star Game as a commissioner's pick.
The 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year has made Orlando his home, and has endeared himself in the hearts of Lions fans. His equalizer in the first match against NYCFC saved the day, and it previewed the obvious joy he has found playing for the Lions. He brought instant credibility to the club, and you can see how he elevated the play of those around him even when he did not have the ball. Kaká was third in jersey sales, which, given the excitement in Orlando following his signing, was to be expected. Just as Gerrard's previous fame from Liverpool and England boosted his jersey sales, Kaká's time in Serie A, La Liga and on Brazil's national team contributed to his. Of the three, Kaká was the only one to make the MLS All-Star Game as a fan's pick and he earned the game's MVP honors with a goal and an assist.
Each of these outstanding midfielders elevated the play and visibility of the MLS as Designated Players. It is tough to compare these players because of each one's unique circumstances and, despite playing the same position, they bring different skills and strengths to the field. For the fans, it is enough that we get to enjoy watching some of the best the game has ever produced ply their trade in MLS.