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View from the End Line: Orlando City and the Designated Player

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Let’s look at the guys who have held the DP tag for the Lions.

New York City FC v Orlando City SC Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Orlando City is a club looking to solidify its identity in MLS. Currently, the only identity it seems to have is one of trouble and strife, about to spend another off-season rebuilding in some fashion and looking to find a coach who will shape and guide the club into the 2020 season, and hopefully beyond. What is truly missing from the Lions, though?

One area that has been mentioned throughout this season, and possibly every season since the Lions joined the ranks of MLS, has been the productivity of the team’s Designated Players. Have the Lions made good choices when giving players the DP tag, or is this an area of immediate need for rectification?

The best way to approach a question like this might be to review the history of the club and the infamous Beckham Rule (a.k.a. Designated Player tag) and how it has been used. Here is a quick look at the Lions’ history of Designated Players and Young Designated Players (YDPs):

  • 2015: Kaká, Carlos Rivas (YDP), Bryan Rochez (YDP) — 12 goals combined in 71 appearances
  • 2016: Kaká, Carlos Rivas (YDP), Matias Perez Garcia —12 goals combined in 58 appearances
  • 2017: Kaká, Yoshimar Yotun, Carlos Rivas (YDP) — 12 goals combined in 63 appearances
  • 2018: Sacha Kljestan, Josué Colmán (YDP), Dom Dwyer — 20 goals combined in 80 appearances
  • 2019: Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, Dom Dwyer — 19 goals combined in 63 appearances

The numbers to remember from all of this are 75 goals in a total of 335 combined appearances. In the five seasons that Orlando City has been in MLS, the players brought in as Designated Players or Young Designated Players produced a goal, on average, every 0.22 appearances. Stating that a little clearer, this means that the Designated Players for the club are only producing one goal about every five appearances combined. Let’s compare that to a few benchmarks around the league.

Carlos Vela, the 2019 MLS Golden Boot winner, has been in MLS for two seasons, making 60 appearances and scoring 48 goals. That equates to 0.8 goals per appearance. Josef Martinez, the 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner, has played in MLS for three seasons, making 83 appearances and scoring 77 goals. That is 0.93 goals per appearance. Nemanja Nikolic, the 2017 Golden Boot winner, has also played for three seasons in MLS, scoring 51 goals in 96 appearances for an average of 0.53 goals per appearance. Some more eye opening numbers:

  • In 2017, their first season in MLS, Atlanta United FC’s three DPs (Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba, and Miguel Almiron) combined to score 41 goals in MLS season play.
  • The 2019 MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders have three DPs (Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro, and defender Xavier Arreaga) who scored a combined 18 goals in 64 combined appearances for an average of 0.28 goals per appearance. Remember that one of those DPs is a pure defender.
  • FC Cincinnati and its two DPs of Allan Cruz and Fanendo Adi combined for eight goals in 34 appearances, or 0.24 goals per appearance.

What is a bit shocking to see is with very few exceptions, DPs are brought into this league to score goals, and they seem to be doing it pretty well. To be fair, the above examples are cherry-picked in that they are the examples of the possibilities with expansion and the increasing exposure and perceived level of play within MLS. There are also very few Carlos Velas and Josef Martinezes out there.

We could keep digging to find at least one team that has had lower success from its Designated Players in putting the ball in the net than Orlando over the past few years, but do we really need to? The above examples should leave us all clamoring for answers as to why the decisions were made to bring previous players in as DPs, does the front office track statistics like this, and what, if anything, is being done to alter the DP culture that Orlando City currently has?

As we head into 2020, Orlando City is going to have to take a very hard look at itself and find a way to capitalize on the players who will be wearing that Designated Player tag this season. The incoming coach is, once again, going to be inheriting some very interesting pieces to an MLS franchise puzzle, and might need two of the three DP tags to right the ship quickly. Is that possible? I guess we will find out soon enough.