By Dario Camacho – MIAMI, FL (May 4, 2012) US Soccer Players — In the world of Major League Soccer, a Designated Player is still an oddity. They are given the spotlight, the money, and in a cruel way, a gargantuan task of meeting increasingly high expectations. Unrealistic, unreasonable, maybe just unattainable, the bigger profile means appeasing the fans. Easy enough if you're doing your job, but distinctly more difficult when things aren't going your way.
With that in mind, spare a thought for a couple of designated players stuck on the bench with DC United. Having a sizeable chunk of cap space not starting is tough at any club. At DC, a team in what seems like a continuous rebuilding phase, it's missing out on being part of an apparent turnaround. Even with their midweek loss to San Jose, things are better for United. Second in the Eastern Conference and chugging along with a dynamic, explosive attack. DC is fun to watch on the field. A charging horse, loose and wild, barging through the pitch. Refined? Hardly. Entertaining? You betcha.
So with things going well, there's les pressure on head coach Ben Olsen to give considerable time to Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi, making the choice to limit their ability to earn their bigger salaries. Is this a problem? Maybe, but probably more acceptable because of who these two players are. They aren't the super DPs. These are mid-level guys, the ones without a long resume of big clubs. In some ways, they are experiments, and not the sure bet that the Henry's and Keane's tend to be. Still, they have that title.
What does having two designated players on your bench mean in real terms? $700k of DC's salary cap. Boskovic is 31 and Salihi is 28, counting the full $350,000 each against the team's cap. Neither one of these acquisitions were made in haste. MLS simply doesn't work that way and for an obvious reason. There's a lot of quality in MLS that costs less. Even with their two designated players, DC is a squad that, for the most part, was built using players other MLS teams were willing to make available. Add in the issues finding a place to build a new stadium, the state of their current home at RFK, and the competition from a baseball team that's all of five miles away, and DC isn't in the position to be taking chances.
You have to wonder what an additional $700k in cap space might have meant for the 2012 version of United. It's not just a question of squad depth. After all, we're talking about a team with two designated players spending time on its bench. It's a question of overall value. Once the expected injuries, call-ups, and plain bad luck that tend to hit every MLS team over the course of a season start happening, these questions won't get any easier to answer.
DC is a team governed by committee, with Olsen's bosses having significant say in the makeup of the squad. After 10 games into the season, the combined output of Salihi and Boskovic is a goal and no assists. At some point, and it will be sooner than later, there will be pressure to do something.
Still, Give Them a Break
Then again, there's a case for DC United in theory and the one in practice. Boskovic, let's not forget, is regaining fitness after coming back from a lengthy absence due to an ACL tear suffered from a clumsy tackle during a US Open Cup game last season. His circumstances have given him a raw deal of sorts.
Salihi is also under a grace period, since we know moving from Rapid Wien in Austria to Major League Soccer requires a period of adjustment. The travel, physicality, style of play, and weather can't be disregarded.
One doesn't just land in MLS and dominate, at least not normally. Adjustments take time, and there's a real chance that one or both of these players answer any and all critics through their play on the field this season. They should certainly get the chance.
Nobody in MLS spends on designated players to use as super subs. The expectation is that the designated players will play. Eventually we'll get to see that United in theory. For now though, DC has one of the more expensive benches in Major League Soccer.
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