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Ranking the Top 10 Designated Players in the MLS

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterJanuary 5, 2012

Ranking the Top 10 Designated Players in the MLS

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    In Major League Soccer, designated players are the most famous, most recognizable players on their respective teams. So which one is the best?

    That's what this list is here to figure out. First, though, a little background.

    More than any other development, the Designated Player Rule transformed the MLS. By allowing teams to bring in big-name players for big-time salaries without breaking the salary cap, the rule brought an unprecedented level of star power to the league.

    David Beckham was the first. Now, with each team allowed two designated players, there are more than 20.

    That meant making a top 10 list was both easy and difficult. For every success story like Fredy Montero of the Seattle Sounders, there are also major busts and big names with incomplete grades.

    Take Robbie Keane for example. The Republic of Ireland forward played well in his four appearances in 2011 for the Los Angeles Galaxy, scoring twice. But four appearances is not a big enough sample size to draw reasonable conclusions.

    So we left him off this list, for now. Who did we include? For this list, we tried to combine the players' 2011 form with their overall accomplishments and reputation.

    It made for what we're sure you'll agree were some interesting choices.

    (Except where noted, all salary figures comes from this .pdf file.)

10. Eric Hassli

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    Age: 30

    Club: Vancouver Whitecaps

    Country: France

    2011 Salary: $900,000

    Hassli, a veteran of several European clubs and leagues, burst onto the MLS scene last spring. He scored twice in his first match, a 4-2 win over Toronto, and earned a red card in his second, a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia.

    The 30-year-old Frenchman finished 2011 with 10 goals and two assists in 26 matches, 21 of which were starts.

9. Rafael Marquez

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    Age: 32

    Club: New York Red Bulls

    Country: Mexico

    2011 Salary: $4,600,000

    Marquez, who played 163 matches over seven seasons with Barcelona, was mostly a disappointment in 2011 with the Red Bulls. He feuded with his teammates, earned himself a suspension and generally played mediocre football.

    Still, despite his indifferent form, Marquez is a legend. At 32, he still has something left to offer the Red Bulls. It's just a matter of him putting it all together.

8. Danny Koevermans

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    Age: 33

    Club: Toronto FC

    Country: Netherlands

    2011 Salary: $1,413,319 (source)

    With only 10 games of MLS experience, you could argue Koevermans' sample size is too small. The thing is, though, Koevermans dominated MLS defenses in those 10 games, scoring eight times.

    Shortly after joining Toronto from PSV Eindhoven in June, Koevermans earned MLS Player of the Week honors for his two-goal performance against the Colorado Rapids on September 17.

    If Koevermans keeps up his form—and if Torsten Frings can milk another good season out of his old bones—look for Toronto to contend next season.

7. Juan Pablo Angel

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    Age: 36

    Club: Chivas USA

    Country: Colombia

    2011 Salary: $1,250,000

    Angel had a rotten 2011 until he transferred from the Los Angeles Galaxy to their crosstown rivals Chivas USA.

    After the transfer, the Colombian forward scored seven goals in nine games. Before it, he had scored three times in 17 appearances.

    Could Angel, who has scored 68 career MLS goals, have another good season left in him in 2012?

6. Alvaro Fernandez

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    Age: 26

    Club: Seattle Sounders

    Country: Uruguay

    2011 Salary: $366,666.67

    Fernandez was a bargain for Seattle in 2011, scoring nine times in 29 matches. That might not sound like an impressive tally, but the Uruguayan was a valuable member of the Sounders' U.S. Open Cup-winning side.

5. Alvaro Saborio

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    Age: 29

    Club: Real Salt Lake

    Country: Costa Rica

    2011 Salary: $305,625

    Saborio is an underrated player. The 29-year-old Costa Rican scored 11 times and grabbed two assists in 2011 as Real Salt Lake advanced to the MLS conference finals (they lost to the eventual champions, the LA Galaxy).

    In 2010, Saborio netted 12 goals, tallied four assists and collected the MLS Newcomer of the Year award as Real advanced to the championship round of the CONCACAF Champions League.

    Look for Saborio and Real Salt Lake to continue their progress in 2012.

4. David Beckham

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    Age: 36

    Club: Los Angeles Galaxy

    Country: England

    2011 Salary: $6,500,000.04

    Beckham gets a lot of guff from sportswriters because of his extracurricular activities. But in 2011, he was one of the best players in MLS.

    The former England captain registered 15 assists and scored two goals in 26 games. More importantly, he helped lead the Galaxy to the MLS Cup title. For his efforts, Beckham earned a spot on the MLS Best XI.

    Beckham's 2011 season was easily his best since 2008, when he had 10 assists and five goals in 25 games. In his other three MLS seasons combined, he made 23 appearances, scored four goals and tallied six assists.

3. Fredy Montero

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    Age: 24

    Club: Seattle Sounders

    Country: Colombia

    2011 Salary: $636,000

    The knock on Montero before 2011 was that his work rate didn't quite match his talent. That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore. You might not have heard of Montero until now, but if the young Colombian keeps playing like he did in 2011, you won't stop hearing about him.

    In 2011, Montero led Seattle's successful defense of the U.S. Open Cup by scoring three game-winners in the final three matches. That included his 77th-minute winner in the Sounders' 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in the final.

    For his strong performances, Montero was named Player of the Tournament.

    In MLS play, Montero scored 12 goals and grabbed nine assists while recovering from a fractured wrist. That record was a continuation of Montero's fine form in 2009 and 2010, when he scored 12 and 10 goals, respectively.

    In three MLS seasons, Montero has scored 34 goals and tallied 26 assists. We can't wait to see what he does next.

2. Thierry Henry

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    Age: 34

    Club: New York Red Bulls

    Country: France

    2011 Salary: $5,600,000.04

    At 34, Henry still has it, as his excellent 2011 showed.

    The legendary French striker scored 14 goals and bagged four assists in 26 appearances, all starts, with the Red Bulls. That earned Henry a spot on the MLS Best XI.

1. Landon Donovan

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    Age: 29

    Club: Los Angeles Galaxy

    Country: USA

    2011 Salary: $2,300,000

    Who else would it be? Donovan is the best player in United States national team history, and he's the best player currently in MLS (the 2011 MVP Award decision aside).

    Donovan, who turns 30 in March, captained the Galaxy to their first title since 2005. Along the way he scored 12 goals and tallied three assists in 23 appearances.

    In the MLS Cup final, Donovan scored the winner and earned Man of the Match honors. For his season-long efforts, Donovan earned his fifth selection to the MLS Best XI.

    As his return to Everton on loan shows, Donovan has what it takes to play at the highest level. With his best years coming to a close, it might be time for him to make a permanent move abroad.

    If not, he'll surely continue to cement his status as an MLS legend.

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