There's an old saying that goes: "Learn from those that came before you." Since the Designated Player rule was adopted in 2007, almost 120 different players have been given DP status. Many of them may not have been very high profile, but there are a few obvious names that stand out.
Thierry Henry and David Beckham are the two big names that people think of, and both of them are legends of the game in their own right. Kaká, both a World Cup and Ballon d'Or winner, is now going into his second season of MLS play, so I decided to have a look at the DPs of the past and present to see how their second years in the league went and what we can expect from Orlando City's captain.
Henry's first full season was 2011, so we'll be looking at his 2012 campaign as a comparison. Henry played in 25 games for the New York Red Bulls, starting in 24 of them. In those 25 games, Henry scored 15 goals and tallied 12 assists. The Frenchman also tallied over 2,100 minutes played, with most of his appearances lasting a full 90 minutes. This was only a one-goal improvement from his first full year, but he tallied eight more assists in 2012. Henry also let fly about 20 more shots than he did in 2011 and actually played less than he did in 2012. The Red Bulls as a team improved by 11 points in the overall table, finishing third in the Eastern Conference on 57 points (16-9-9 overall record). The Red Bulls ended up falling in the quarterfinals of that year to D.C. United.
Now, for David Beckham's comparison, I'm going to go with his 2011 season, since that was his second full season in MLS.
Although he came to the U.S. in 2007, he didn't play more than 12 games in 2009 or 2010, having been on loan to AC Milan and suffering a torn Achilles. In that 2011 season, Beckham played in 26 games, starting in all but one of them. Although he scored only two goals in that time, the Englishman tallied 15 assists in over 2,200 minutes logged on the pitch.
Again, much like Henry, Beckham played the full 90 minutes for the vast majority of the season. The Galaxy's 2011 campaign also saw Robbie Keane join MLS and together with Beckham and Landon Donovan, they won not only the Supporters' Shield, but the MLS Cup as well. LA only lost five games during that year, while going undefeated at home.
While those two players are the big names, I figured I'd throw in two others who are fairly recent and more comparable to Kaká: Tim Cahill and Federico Higuaín.
Cahill's second full year was in fact his last year in MLS, 2014. Cahill played in 23 games and started 18 in the Red Bulls' midfield. The Australian actually had a down year compared to his first complete year in the U.S., scoring only two goals and assisting on two as well. This is compared to 11 goals and five assists in 2013. Cahill's minutes also decreased dramatically, as he played a total of just over 1,500 minutes compared to over 2,200 the year before. This is partially due to nagging injuries, but the point remains the same.
The Red Bulls in 2014 finished fourth in the East and made it all the way to the conference finals, before bowing out to the New England Revolution 4-3 on aggregate. This was also the last season of Henry before he announced retirement.
Federico Higuaín is probably the best comparison to Kaká, due to their similar positions and playing styles (out of these players). Another mid-season DP acquisition, Pipa's second full season of MLS was also 2014. He played in 29 out of a possible 34 games, starting in all but one of them.
Higuaín's production was very similar from 2013 to 2014, scoring 11 goals in both years but having two fewer assists in 2014, with seven. His minutes played also were consistent, only differing by about 100 minutes of on-field play, with 2014 being on the lesser side. The Crew, meanwhile, finished third in the Eastern Conference and made it to the conference semifinals, losing to the New England Revolution 7-3 on aggregate.
Now that we've laid out four different players' second years in MLS, it's time to find some similarities to apply to the Orlando City captain.
All four of the aforementioned players were mid-season signings, so their second full years in the league are more like two and a half years. All the same, both Henry and Beckham saw a big leap in their assist totals from their first years to their second, which I could definitely see for Kaká. If Cyle Larin, Bryan Rochez, Carlos Rivas and Kevin Molino can continue/start to produce on a regular basis, I can easily see Ricky taking more of a facilitator role going into 2016.
Another comparison between all four players is that each of their teams made the playoffs in their second years, which isn't a far stretch for Orlando City. The last thing to be said about these other DPs in relation to Kaká is that each of them had injury troubles during their MLS tenure, some more serious than others. Although Kaká has had issues in the past, he's older and needs to be a bit more cautious going forward to avoid a serious injury.
So, what do you think Kaká will do in 2016 in relation to his first year? Better? Worse? Let us know in the comments below.