MLS teams have swung and missed on Designated Player signings in the last 10 years. Here are the worst ones.
10. Claudio Reyna, New York Red Bulls
Reyna was well into the downside of his career when he joined the New York Red Bulls, so perhaps expectations should have been lower than they were. But on the other hand, how could they be, with his status as the greatest American player of his generation and a guaranteed salary of $1.2 million? Regardless, Reyna was a shadow of the player U.S. fans knew he could be in his time with the Red Bulls, thanks mostly to a litany of injuries he battled throughout his time in New Jersey. He retired after a season and a half.
9. Frank Rost, New York Red Bulls
If there’s one position at which the U.S. can consistently produce quality players, it’s goalkeeper. There’s almost never a reason to spend DP-caliber money on one, because there are plentiful serviceable options available at much cheaper price tags. And yet the Red Bulls still decided to hand German goalkeeper Frank Rost a $550,000 contract for a third of a season of work. The former Hamburg ‘keeper played in 11 regular season games for the Bulls, allowing 14 goals over that span. He then promptly retired.
8. Nery Castillo, Chicago Fire
When he joined the Chicago Fire in the summer of 2010, Castillo was a young, talented Mexican goalscorer desperate for regular playing time after struggling to break through at Ukrainian giant Shakhtar Donetsk. He was exactly the type of player MLS should have been targeting at that time, and the league paid like it knew that; Castillo earned $1.8 million in guaranteed compensation that season. However, his performance was a huge flop. Castillo was constantly injured and rarely got on the field when healthy. He made just eight appearances, registering no goals and no assists.
7. Marcelo Gallardo, D.C. United
A star at Argentine power River Plate and a member of two Argentina World Cup teams, one would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who thought the playmaker Gallardo was anything less than a good investment for D.C. United in 2008. However, his gargantuan $1.8 million salary–more than anyone in the league at the time not named Beckham or Blanco–proved to be a burden, as Gallardo struggled with injuries and didn’t make much of an impact at all on the field when he was healthy. He left D.C. United after just one season, having scored four goals with three assists.
6. Gilberto, Toronto FC
One of a long line of Toronto FC forward signings meant to serve as savior, Gilberto may be the most disappointing one of them all. The promising Brazilian was bought from Internacional for a $3 million fee, and was handed a contract worth $1.2 million in guaranteed compensation. Teaming up with fellow DPs Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, Gilberto was in an ideal position to make an impact. Instead he scored seven goals over 28 games and was loaned to Vasco Da Gama thanks to the arrival of Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Chicago picked him up, but after a promising start, his career fizzled there too.
5. Julian De Guzman, Toronto FC
De Guzman arrived in Toronto as the league’s first Canadian DP near the end of the 2009 season, and his presence was supposedly meant to solidify Toronto in the middle of the park. Instead, injuries and general bad play meant that De Guzman had next to no positive impact on the field for what was, at the time, consistently one of the league’s worst teams. By the time 2012 came around, De Guzman and his $2 million-per-year contract were traded to FC Dallas for forward Andrew Wiedeman, who had played only eight games with no goals to his name.
4. Mista, Toronto FC
Mista arrived in Toronto on the recommendation of De Guzman, his former teammate at La Liga side Deportivo La Coruna. His tenure worked out about as well as De Guzman's. Mista scored only one goal—in the CONCACAF Champions League—and retired at the end of a mere half-season with the Reds. For his efforts, Mista earned a cool $1 million.
3. Denilson, FC Dallas
It’s rare even today that an MLS club gets a chance to sign a World Cup winner who was once the most expensive player in the world. It was even less so back in 2007, when the 30-year-old Denilson followed Beckham into the league with a contract that paid nearly $900,000 in guaranteed compensation. What did Dallas get for that money? Eight games over the latter part of a single season, with just one goal scored–from a penalty kick. His ineffectiveness was so rampant that several FC Dallas players admitted that the team had to adjust its style of play to make up for his shortcomings: namely, not working off the ball, not being fit and refusing to pass to teammates.
2. Rais M’Bolhi, Philadelphia Union
Before getting into the case of M’Bolhi, consider the state of the Philadelphia Union when he signed in July of 2014. The Union had two solid goalkeepers on their roster–Zac MacMath (a starter for the previous two seasons and still just 22 years old) and Andre Blake (the top overall pick in that year’s draft, which the Union traded up to acquire and widely considered to be the most MLS-ready goalkeeping prospect in a while). Unless they planned to change the rules of the game to allow two netminders, the Union did not need a goalkeeper. They especially didn’t need one that would take up an international roster spot–they already had that with Blake, a Jamaican. So, naturally, they signed M’Bolhi, the Algerian ‘keeper famous for letting in one of the most significant goals in U.S. Soccer history. And not only did they hand him a DP contract, they also paid a $400,000 transfer fee.
That all reflects far worse on Union management than M’Bolhi himself, but the Algerian certainly didn’t help matters with his play. He was solid but not outstanding in the few games he was able to play in 2014, then began 2015 disastrously, allowing 10 goals in five starts. The last of those starts, in which he allowed two stoppage-time goals to Sporting Kansas City, was the last straw. Coach Jim Curtin didn’t just bench M’Bolhi–he removed him from the squad entirely. He moved on to Turkish club Antalyaspor later that year.
1. Rafa Marquez, New York Red Bulls
Much like Blanco, Marquez is a figure beloved by Mexican fans and despised by the majority of U.S. supporters. The difference in their MLS careers, though, could not be more stark. While Blanco became beloved by his club’s fans, Marquez did an astonishing variety of things to have the completely opposite effect. For starters, he played in only 36 of a possible 73 games during his two and a half years in MLS, thanks mostly to injuries, bad form and disciplinary absences. Speaking of discipline, he ended two straight seasons, including his final one, with red cards in playoff elimination games. He broke Shea Salinas's collarbone. He called out his teammates for being “not on his level.” At times, Red Bulls supporters openly booed Marquez at every opportunity. And he was paid $4.6 million per season to do all of this.
For all of this, Marquez isn’t just an easy choice for worst DP signing of all time–he’s also a strong candidate for worst signing of any type in the league’s history.