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Houston Dynamo: The Curious Case of the Designated Player

The Houston Dynamo Front Office and Ownership recently experienced a significant level of dissatisfaction from the fanbase. Many fans felt the Ownership of the club was limiting the Front Office's ability to acquire a necessary component to take the franchise to the next level. Were these sentiments realistic or was there more to the story?

Does Boniek Garcia deserve more support from the Houston Dynamo?
Does Boniek Garcia deserve more support from the Houston Dynamo?
Bob Levey

The Houston Dynamo are known for extracting every ounce of talent from players, even those other clubs would readily dismiss.  The team could take a cast-off, oft-injured forward from a team like the Chicago Fire offering next to nothing in exchange, and after patiently waiting and working with the player turn them into a pivotal piece to a Championship run.  Yet, the club never seemed to land the big one.

Most fans, myself included, tended to explain this away as a result of the Ownership not desiring to invest heavily into a single player.  Taking a look back at the 2012 Major League Soccer season and the players who were brought in as Designated Players is actually a bit revealing.

Federico PuppoKris Boyd.  Hamdi SalihiBarry Robson.  Sherjill MacDonald.  Christian Tiffert.

Six designated players brought in during the 2012 MLS season.  Two of those were brought in by the Chicago Fire (Puppo and MacDonald).  Boyd went to Portland Timbers, Salihi to DC United, Robson to Vancouver Whitecaps, and Tiffert to Seattle Sounders.  Of those six, only one had a salary higher than $1 million US, Kris Boyd.

It is even more interesting to look back through the Designated Player history of Major League Soccer with a focus only on those players who made more than $1 million US.  David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, Claudio Reyna, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Marcelo Gallardo, Julian de Guzman, Freddie Ljungberg, Rafael Marquez, Nery Castillo, Torsten Frings and Kris Boyd.

Of the 11 Designated Players making more than $1 million US since 2007, only 2 were signed between 2011 and 2013.  Torsten Frings and Kris Boyd.

We all know the story of Kris Boyd.  He tried out for the Houston Dynamo, but the team did not feel he was worthy of Designated Player status and offered him a contract he felt was unbefitting his profile.  Subsequently, he ended up with Portland Timbers where he was stamped as a Designated Player and returned the good faith of that franchise by coring a whopping 7 goals in 26 appearances.  He was then offered an exit by the franchise, and the contract was mutually ended.

For the Dynamo, losing out on Kris Boyd became Jason Johnson thanks to discovery claim rights. Thanks Merritt Paulson! -Fuzion

Torsten Frings is a different story, but the end result is quite similar.  He entered the league midway through the 2011 campaign and showed to be a good investment.  Then midway through 2012 (or somewhere into the latter stages of the 2012 campaign), Frings suffered a hip injury which required arthroscopic surgery.  He would never return from the injury, and subsequently retired from soccer in February of 2013.  There is a bit of a caveat here, however, in that Frings has suggested he may return to Toronto FC in a role similar to that of our own Brian Ching as a player-coach hybrid.

This brings an interesting point of contention which I believe the Front Office would like us to remember.  Freely spending on a Designated Player does not ensure success in Major League Soccer.  With this thought in mind it becomes less difficult to put ourselves into Chris Canetti's mindset, and to also see where the Ownership group comes from.

In sports culture around the world it is presumed those who spend the most typically end up in the best positions.  Look at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, LA Dodgers, New York Yankees, and other entities which spent freely at one time or another and have since solidified themselves as powers in their respective leagues.  Yet longterm success is not predicated upon spending, it is merely a facility by which success can be obtained.

There are organizations which have obtained success through other means, but in the world of sports there will always be the division of the haves and the have-nots.  Does this mean the Houston Dynamo would automatically fall under the have-nots with our thrift-spending Ownership?

If we take a step back and examine the roster, there is actually an underlying theme which I hinted at earlier.  The Houston Dynamo are among those clubs who consistently turn out top performers at economic prices.  True to form, the current roster exhibits this facet of the club to a 't'.

We already know how valuable Brad Davis is out on the wing.  His service and ability to change the entire flow of the offense make him one of the best players in Major League Soccer.  Most teams would covet Davis enough they would use a Designated Player slot on him.

Just take a look at Los Angeles Galaxy and what they have done with Omar Gonzalez to keep him in LA and Major League Soccer.  It should come as no surprise then, at least not to any tried and true Houston Dynamo fan, Brad Davis at his current salary and without using up a Designated Player slot on him is an absolute steal.  Granted, he is not as pacey as most Designated Players nor is he one to take over a game entirely on his own, but it is clear we should keep him in consideration when discussing the Ownership and their desire to spend.

Some fans will come into the argument of free-spending versus thrift-spending with nothing more than the knowledge other teams are spending big on players such as Clint Dempsey or David Beckham.  What they don't see, however, is exactly how much the Ownership is already spending on the players we currently have on our roster.

The top four players for the Houston Dynamo in terms of salary are Brad Davis, Bobby Boswell, Omar Cummings and Ricardo Clark.  All four of these players combined make $1.1 million US, and these are just the top four earners.  Eleven of the remaining players all make over $100 thousand US, and within those eleven are the two Designated Players, Boniek Garcia and newly acquired Young Designated Player, Alexander Lopez.

So really, my question to you is this:

Can this Ownership group really be pointed at as not spending much money, or is it more the point that when they spend their money the Front Office are experts at maximizing the investment for the highest returns?

Sports are a business, and that is something which will never change.  There will always be a focus on maximizing profit and the return on investments.  Every player, every coach, every personnel is an investment for the Ownership.  While I won't stop my desire to see an even bigger name in orange in the coming seasons, the more I have taken a step back the more I can see the bigger picture.