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Heavy Hangs the Head: The Luis Landin Story

HOUSTON - MAY 05:  Luis Landin #7 of the Houston Dynamo lays on the field in pain after taking a hard hit during a game with FC Dallas at Robertson Stadium on May 5, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - MAY 05: Luis Landin #7 of the Houston Dynamo lays on the field in pain after taking a hard hit during a game with FC Dallas at Robertson Stadium on May 5, 2010 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Luis Landin frustrated me a great deal.

Earth shattering statement, I know.  (That's why I get paid the big bucks!)  I realize his obituaries were penned weeks ago after the Dynamo released him, and a discussion of him at this point likely constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress, but I felt like looking at Landin beyond what we saw between the bylines. 

This was inspired by a combination of my current frustrations with the Dynamo and a look at the recently released salary list.  I looked at the names on our roster.  Then I looked at their salaries.  Then back at the names.  And while on a few occasions I wasn't pleased by what I saw, nothing seemed outrageous.  No one struck me as a complete waste of money.

Landin was the victim of an aspect of sports not uncommon elsewhere in the athletic universe: expectations.  Much heralded sports star fails to change the fortunes of entire franchise despite massive monetary investment.  This is not a new story.  Except that in MLS, yeah... it kind of is.

MLS is unique compared to other sports leagues for a number of reasons.  The single entity set-up.  The massively restrictive salary cap.  The Musketeer-like "all for one and one for all" attitude that still seems to drive most business decisions.  Not to say these were bad things - I fully understand the necessity of this approach to ensure the long term success of the league - but this structure shields fans from certain quirks of sport.  One of those quirks is the massive bust.  The discrepancy between product on the field and salary impact is really rather minimal when you think about it.

Sure there have been MLS busts before Landin.  Youri Djorkaeff 's time with the Metrostars jumps to mind.  But the possibility for these types of players increased dramatically with the advent of the Designated Player.  Enter Landin.

He arrived with much fanfare.  He cost the organization a pretty penny.  (Note: I realize his salary was "only" $120k, but the loan fee - which I have been unable to locate - pushed his cost into DP territory.)  We had grand visions of a dynamic partnership with Ching up top, buckets of goals, and another star to build the franchise around.  We did not get this.

The player on paper gave way to an out-of-shape mess that couldn't adapt to the physicality of MLS.  Every time he trotted out, a smaller and smaller piece of me held out hope this would be the game he turned it on.  This would be his moment to break through and become the player he was always suppose to be.  Obviously, that day never arrived.  And eventually Landin exited stage right, moving south to ply his trade once more in Mexico.

Let me show you two stat lines:

  • 5 GS, 4 SB, 1 G, 2 A
  • 4 GS, 3 SB, 1 G, 0 A

Neither one is particularly stellar, but I'll wager you don't have nearly the visceral opinion of Cam Weaver (line 2) you do of Luis Landin (line 1).  The only difference?  Landin cost quite a bit more, thus he suffered from the burden of expectations.  And we best get used to it, because as MLS continues to grow, so too will the list of Landin-like busts.

But here is where the meta aspect of the Landin experiment could have real ramifications.  Business decisions that backfire tend to impact the overall strategy going forward.  Landin was the first Dynamo DP and by all measurements, burned the organization badly.  To our benefit, the Dynamo are cautiously and intelligently run, but that doesn't mean they should be risk averse.  I fear the sting of Landin may be felt for some seasons to come, and we may not be aggressive with our DP slots.

That would be Landin's ultimate failure.

Nevertheless, I will choose not to think of Landin as a complete and total bust, but instead as a pioneer of sorts.  Redefining my understanding of "disappointment" in MLS and steeling me against future flops.  Shakespeare understood, and now the Dynamo and Landin understand: heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.