Explained wonderfully here by our own Weston Jenson, the Designated Player rule is unlike anything else in professional sports. Due to salary cap constraints, getting designated players right is the biggest ticket to success in Major League Soccer while getting it wrong can set a club back for years.
Whatever strategy is employed in the search for DP greatness, the end goal is to win games, which is why this list of the best puts a heavy emphasis on players that won trophies as well as why the ultra talents who lack silverware have failed to make the cut (sorry David Villa). In addition, raw stats factor in because scoring goals is awesome and soccer would be a really weird game without that. Impact on the league and the greater good of the MLS is a factor, which hurt otherwise deserving players like Bradley Wright-Phillips and Diego Valeri.
Also, it is a provable and indisputable fact that Real Salt Lake’s Designated Players have been and will forever be the best that the league will ever see and for that reason they have been left off the list. Landon Donovan (thank you Wells Fargo for helping me spell his name correctly) has also been omitted as he was grandfathered into the DP rule, and including the G.O.A.T. on any MLS list is the equivalent of using Oddjob on Goldeneye or Eddy Gordo on Tekken. Without further Freddy Adu, I present to you the top five Greatest Designated Players the league has seen.
5. Guillermo Barros Schelotto
In a tough competition for best MLS South American with three names, the Argentine narrowly edged out New York Red Bull’s former star Juan Pablo Angel. A hipster DP, Barros Schellotto dominated MLS before it was cool, posting career numbers of 33 goals and 41 assists during four seasons with Columbus.
2008 was a banner year for the Crew legend as he guided the club to an MLS Championship while also earning a league MVP, Finals MVP, SI Latino of the year, and assisting all three of Columbus’ goals in the final (against Juan Pablo Angel’s Red Bull).
Barros Schellotto is the true ODP (Original Designated Player) and set the stage for many talented Argentine’s to make the jump to MLS. Now if only we could get him to come back and coach.
4. Thierry Henry
As one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Henry is known not only for his prolific goal scoring, but also for his world class competitiveness. From video games to small sided games, the French international and former Arsenal man (he is the all time leading goalscorer for both Les Bleus and the Gunners) always pushed himself and those around him to play at the highest level.
His time in MLS included 51 goals 42 assists and a huge upsurge in NYRB popularity, a member of the “Butts in Seats Best Eleven” (I just made this up and call dibs and copyright forever) Henry raised the league’s popularity, while simultaneously raising the team to their first ever Supporters’ Shield. The French legend ticks all the boxes for Designated Player greatness.
3. David Beckham
One of the most frustrating conversations that MLS fans frequently face (just ahead of “it would be better if there were more goals” and just behind “how does it end in a tie?”) is the difficulty of explaining to a grown adult human that David Beckham does not/did not/will not/should not would not with a fox play for the U.S. national team. To which they respond with “then what was the big deal about him and Posh moving here?” to which you explain that it’s actually “he and Posh” followed by a recap of Spice Girls greatest hits, followed by an explanation of how the Gasol brothers play in the NBA but still for Spain in the Olympics, followed by an argument about how the friend ordered the Spice Girls’ greatest hits, followed by you questioning your choice of friends.
Although this conversation can be annoying, the fact that it’s likely the only soccer conversation you’ve had with your so called friend is indicative of David Beckham’s impact on soccer in the U.S. and the growth of MLS. Never had a global superstar of such magnitude played in Major League Soccer while he still had so much left in the tank.
While the fact that the DP rule is nicknamed “The Beckham Rule” kind of automatically puts him in the top 10 at least, his position on this list is ensured by his success in the league. While in MLS, Beckham won three MLS Championships (making America the third country he’d won three titles in), two Supporter’s Shields, and tallied 18 goals and 40 assists (including 8 postseason assists).
2. Sebastian Giovinco
While Beckham likely has the highest Klout score of anyone in MLS history, Giovinco may be the most talented player to come over in the prime of his career. The Atomic Ant is a danger every time he touches the ball, and is the all time league leader of the prestigious “most defenders left crying in the showers with their ankles broken” stat.
In two years with the club Giovinco has reached number one on Toronto’s all time scoring list, despite not even cracking the top ten in appearances. The Italiano has scored 43 goals to go with his 35 assists, and his 2015 haul of 22 and 16 is the best combined goals/assists mark in MLS history which made him the clear choice for league MVP.
Although his postseason success doesn’t stack up to others on this list, he has led Toronto to two consecutive playoff appearances, the first two in club history. In addition, they won the Canadian Championship this past season and reached the MLS Championship where they outplayed a Seattle Sounders squad that beat them in PKs (after Stefan Frei went full “LeBron game 7 chase down block” on a header from Jozy Altidore). If Giovinco can keep the team trending upward, he may one day sit in the top spot on this list.
1. Robbie Keane
From his humble beginnings as an “unidentified fan” this Irish international has certainly done well for himself. After arriving in MLS in 2011 as part of the best Big Three the league has ever known (completed by David Beckham and LegenD), Keane’s name has been synonymous with excellence. During his time in MLS Keane has won three MLS Cups, one Supporters’ Shield, was the league and MLS Cup MVP in 2011, and has been named to four Best XI squads.
The Tottenham legend didn’t wait long to open his MLS account as he scored in the 21st minute of his debut against rival San Jose. This was the first of the astounding 83 goals and 45 assists that Keane accumulated in his time in the States. In addition to producing on the field Keane was a presence in the locker room, wearing the captain’s armband for the Galaxy from 2013 to 2016.
All these things combine to make Robbie Keane the best Designated Player in MLS history. Don’t believe he’s the best all time? Just watch these five goals, we’ll make a believer of you yet:
Anyone we missed? LOLZ of course there is, can’t wait to hear about it in the comments below!