Disappointing Designated Players: The 5 who need to justify their price
Major League Soccer is at its unofficial midway point, and there are plenty of players who need to make the second half of their seasons better than the first.
Chief among them are several of the league’s well-paid Designated Players who will be readying themselves for a push out of disappointment as the playoffs approach.
In a league like MLS, those DPs and their teams can’t afford for them to not perform. These five players will need to reverse their seasons when they return from the break if they want to justify their coveted DP status.
Jonathan Mensah, Columbus Crew SC
Gregg Berhalter was well aware that he took a risk in offering a big-money deal to a defender this offseason, and his gambit has yet to pay off.
One of just two DP defenders in MLS, Mensah’s 14 appearances for Columbus Crew SC have been inconsistent at best. The Ghanaian has certainly demonstrated his physical abilities at times, and has shown flashes of being the athletic center back that Berhalter hoped for, but has shown more bad than good.
Mensah has been directly at fault for several goals scored against Columbus, including being dunked on by Alan Gordon for the game-winning goal in a substitute appearance against the Colorado Rapids and giving up a fifth-minute penalty kick to begin Toronto FC’s 5-0 rout of the Crew.
According to MLS Players Union numbers, Mensah is set to make $844,000 this season, over $200,000 more than Jelle Van Damme, the league’s other DP at a position where most teams choose to be frugal. To justify that cost, Mensah will need to be the most dominant defender in MLS between now and October.
Yura Movsisyan, Real Salt Lake
Yura Movsisyan’s unhappiness is the worst-kept secret in MLS this season.
The Real Salt Lake striker has had obvious and public disagreements with head coach Mike Petke since Petke took over the job in March, and the pair has openly sparred through the media over the last few months.
RSL’s DP striker doesn’t even have his starting job locked down at the moment, and has rotated between substitute and starter since May. And after a three-game goal-scoring streak in April, Movsisyan has just two goals in his last 13 matches.
At about $1.9 million, Movsisyan carries a higher reported salary than league scoring leader Nemanja Nikolic, and makes just $20,000 less than Romain Alessandrini. For the Armenian to live up to that figure, he’ll need to drastically improve on his current tally of six goals and zero assists, even with trade rumors swirling.
Kei Kamara, New England Revolution
He set the league ablaze with his 22-goal, eight-assist, MVP-caliber campaign in 2015 with Columbus, but Kamara returned to earth last season. And in 2017, he has fallen even further.
Playing more than half of his 2016 season with the New England Revolution after his blockbuster trade, Kamara netted just seven goals and two assists in 21 starts. He’s off to an even colder start this season, with four goals and three assists in 17 appearances.
At $800,000, Kamara’s salary isn’t as damaging as some other strikers in the league, but players like David Accam and Chris Wondolowski are lapping Kamara’s production at similar figures.
Gonzalo Veron, New York Red Bulls
If Gonzalo Veron wants to salvage his time with the New York Red Bulls, the time is now (we know, Red Bulls fans, you’ve been saying that for over a year).
The lightning-quick winger has yet to find his place wide or up top in either Jesse Marsch’s classic 4-2-3-1 or his on-brand 4-2-2-2 this season, and has yet to become the player Red Bulls fans hoped he would be when he signed with the club in the summer of 2015.
Marsch has trusted his Designated Player with only nine league starts in two years, meaning Veron has only contributed five goals and three assists in his entire time in MLS. Meanwhile, he’s set to make $500,000 this year, a figure comparable to Lee Nguyen, Haris Medunjanin and Ola Kamara.
In the club’s final match before the Gold Cup, Veron snagged a game-winner to beat the New England Revolution, prompting Marsch to call him “a guy who can make plays.” If Veron has a future in the league, he’ll need to make those plays a regular occurrence instead of a welcome bonus.
Simon Dawkins, San Jose Earthquakes
The fact that Simon Dawkins isn’t living up to a DP standard is certainly not news.
Dawkins was seen as a promising playmaker in his first spell with the Earthquakes in 2011 and 2012, but even then he didn’t have the statistics of a star, scoring just 14 goals and adding three assists in 53 appearances.
He couldn’t match those numbers as a DP in his first season back in MLS after returning from England. Dawkins scored just five goals and added two assists in 29 appearances last season, and has yet to make any kind of mark on his 2017 season.
The Jamaican national teamer endured multiple bouts with injury this season, and has just one single shot on goal in his 12 appearances and six starts thus far. With the same $800,000 contract as timeless poacher and teammate Wondolowski – on pace for another season of double-digit goals – Dawkins will have to become a dominant offensive force in the second half of 2017 to justify his price.