‘DESIGNATED PLAYERS’

Brazil’s Kaka, right, and David Luiz attend a training session in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Brazil will face Argentina in a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match on Nov.12 in Buenos Aires.
Associated Press / Andre Penner

The signing of foreigners labeled ‘Designated Players’ who came to MLS last season certainly helped to heighten the awareness of MLS around the world, but in most cases that’s all that it did; few amongst the high-priced players helped their teams substantially on the field.

Kudos now to Italian Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC, Ivorian Didier Drogba of the Montreal Impact and Brazilian Kaka who played for Orlando City FC — a trio who proved their worth to their teams many times over and justified the top dollars spent to secure their services.

Conversely, a thumbs down to New York FC’s trio of Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Frank Lampard, along with Steven Gerrard of the La Galaxy — a group that miss-kicked last season.

Giovinco joined a failed franchise and immediately gave it life as he led Toronto to its first MLS playoff appearance. Giovinco was the 2015 MLS MVP after scoring a league 22 goals, tied with Columbus Crew Kai Kamara, and also won the Golden Boot award. He registered 16 assists to lead the league in both categories and set an MLS season record for his combined goals and assists (38). His assist record gave him the edge over Kamara in the Golden Boot voting.

Accomplishments in MLS is certainly respected in world soccer because Giovinco’s MLS performance earned him a re-call to the Italian national team. The Italian became the first player to score more than 20 goals and register more than 10 assists in one season.

Like Giovinco, Drogba came to Montreal from Chelsea FC (English Premier League) and immediately made an impact in Montreal. The former Ivory Coast international scored 12 goals in his 12 starts and made the Impact a formidable team in 2015; he led Montreal into the playoffs as it registered its first postseason win, versus Toronto FC.

The Impact, though, may have problems re-signing Drogba for the 2016 season since Chelsea is eyeing him as a future assistant coach. According to newspaper reports in Montreal, the fans have threatened to abandon the team if Drogba is not re-signed for the 2016 campaign.

Montreal’s public relations department released this statement on the Drogba situation: “We are currently in contact with Didier Drogba and Chelsea FC,” the club tweeted. “We are doing everything we can to have him back with the Impact in 2016…

“…But our objective is to have him back for another season, as agreed in his contract. This situation is out of our control. We would like to thank our supporters for their understanding and their patience.”

Kaka thrived in the Orlando sunshine and he too was re-called to his national team when he played for Brazil against the USA last fall in an international friendly. Kaka helped to draw 62,510 fans on opening day of this new MLS franchise as the team continued to attract large crowds throughout a successful season.

The Brazilian midfielder is credited with having a positive influence on the young players in the new team, and an example of this is Canadian forward Cyle Larin, who won the 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year award after scoring 17 goals, the highest for an MLS rookie.

The thumbs-down group disappointed many; Pirlo may have tried his best but his production didn’t help his team much since his high-priced supporting cast in Yankee Stadium of Villa and Lampard, for all intents and purposes, did not really show up.

Villa clearly has not lived up to the hype of being former Spain international striker and performer for famed Barcelona FC of Spain. Villa was hampered by injury, seemingly cause by the lack of top level fitness; Lampard, a former England international arrived late in the season injured and got off to a slow start. It seemed that the English Premier League took its toll on Lampard, who was clearly ineffective in Yankee Stadium. Lampard’s former England teammate Gerrard, who also arrived at midseason, seemed lost in the Galaxy midfield for much of the second half of the season and was unimpressive in his much publicized MLS debut.

Galaxy Re-organizing

The LA Galaxy is retooling its on-field personnel for the 2016 season after missing out on the MLS Cup appearance for the first time in the past three seasons. The club sold 26-year-old Brazilian midfielder Juninho to Club Tijuana of the Mexican Clausura (top league) last Wednesday. Juninho signed with the LA Galaxy in 2010 and had been its top midfielder since; he played 187 times for the Los Angeles club and helped it win three MLS Cup titles.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to have worn the LA Galaxy jersey for the past six seasons,” Juninho said in a statement released by the Galaxy. “I have worn it with pride, however, it is time to for me to trade in my Galaxy jersey for a new one. I’ve always welcomed the opportunity for growth and change. To play for Club Tijuana in Mexico is a tremendous opportunity for me.”

The retooling didn’t stop with Juninho; American international central defender Omar Gonzalez was sold to Mexico’s Pachuca of the same league. The moves reportedly were to free up salary cap monies after high-spending on Englishman Gerrard and Mexican international Giovanni Dos Santos, both of whom were signed late last season.

Toronto FC ‘s Sebastian Giovinco (10) stretches to bring the ball under control during first-half MLS soccer match action against the Montreal Impact in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015.
Associated Press / The Canadian Press / Chris Young

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