In this new recurring series, American Soccer Now will explore the world of Major League Soccer Designated Players—past, present, and future. Please welcome author Taylor Rockwell to the fold.
THE DESIGNATED PLAYER RULE
March 28, 2014
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remains one of the most adjective-able aspects of Major League Soccer: controversial, Byzantine, exciting, confusing, Hamdi Salihi-producing.
All those terms and more seem apt when discussing the 36 current players and 44 others who have held the Designated Player title since the rule was enacted in 2007. To help keep track of the “DPs” in Major League Soccer, each week we will be taking a look at the players that already do or potentially could earn that hallowed status.
Up first, the exciting world of wild speculation!
The past few months have seen major names like Jermaine Defoe, Michael Bradley, and, to a lesser extent, Maurice Edu, enter the league. So, with that in mind, let’s take a moment to cast our gaze abroad and see who else could potentially be one day earning a lot more than the league minimum salary. Our first candidate? The man, the myth, the toothy: Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, also known as Ronaldinho.
Why It Could Happen
When a player has had the type of career that defies simple description, the easy way out is to classify his journey as a “rollercoaster ride.” With that in mind, Ronaldinho’s career has been a rollercoaster ride that has featured a World Cup winner’s medal, varying degrees of fitness, numerous pieces of major silverware, and an overall ability so strong that a friend of mine once argued (with sincerity) that the Brazilian was a legitimate Jedi. Simply put, Ronaldinho has had a lot of ups and downs in his career.
Since his early years, the 2005 Ballon d’Or
winner has established a pattern: move to a club, play well, win stuff, get bored, move to a new club, repeat. Indeed, only this past January, the 33-year-old attacker was linked with teams in England, Germany, France, and Turkey. Although he opted to sign an extension with his current club, Atlético Mineiro, the fact remains that ‘Dinho has a habit of winning silverware, getting bored, finding his way into a nightclub at an inopportune time, and then departing for seemingly greener pastures.
Last season the playmaker helped guide Mineiro to a Copa Libertadores championship. More recently, the 2002 World Cup winner was fined by his club for returning late from Carnival festivities. Could it be that the time will soon come for ‘Dinho to once again search out new opportunities? And if so, wouldn’t the large paychecks currently on offer from MLS prove a major drawing factor for a man who fell out with Flamengo due to disagreements over his wages?
Why He Would Fit
Although Ronaldinho has lost the pace that made him such a lethal counter-attacking force, his skill on the ball and from set pieces remains. Remember his lobbed free kick in the 2002 World Cup Quarterfinals that saw David Seamen humiliated and England eliminated? Now imagine MLS goalkeepers in the league trembling between the sticks any time ‘Dinho’s team wins a free-kick within 40 yards of goal. Remember his brilliant stepovers, beautifully weighted passes, and clinical finishes? Now imagine a defense as strong as that of Sporting KC in 2013—the backline allowed a league low 30 goals in 34 games—scrambling to cover a man once thought to be the second coming of Pele.
Where He Would Fit
I believe the logical equation for this question would be “team with low scoring record” + “lots of contract money” = your answer. Ronaldinho, much like Beckham when he first came into the league, is all but guaranteed to sell out every single match, both home and away. In terms of sponsorships, media attention, and jerseys sold, he would more or less prove a license to print money. In addition, expansion franchises with money to burn (don’t forget that Manchester City own 80% of NYCFC) or large Brazilian populations in their vicinity (of the 101 American cities with the largest Brazilian populations, three are located in Florida) could prove viable and, most importantly, attractive destinations for a man with a record of burning bridges.
Although it would be an absolute joy to watch defenses attempt to combat Ronaldinho’s technique and ability, the fact remains that this move remains unlikely. Ronaldinho has made it clear that he is happy to be back in Brazil, and his decision to spurn potential suitors in strong leagues attests to the notion that he will see out his career in his native land.
Moreover, the desire to prove himself in a new league (Henry) or establish himself as a global brand (Beckham) has never seemed a major motivating factor for Ronaldinho. Instead, he has always emphasized happiness—both off the pitch and on.
That said, MLS, with its lucrative contracts, passionate fan base, and defenses ripe for the plundering, could provide a final arena for the man to once again rediscover his love of the game.
What do you think? Might Ronaldinho surface in the American domestic league? If so, where? Share your thoughts below.
Taylor Rockwell is a freelance journalist, a Manchester United fan, and one of the founders of the “award-winning” Total Soccer Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter.