New on SocTakes: Forward Progress: FC Dallas’ quest for DP talent

DP talent

Photo credit: Michael Barera (Creative Commons license)

I’ve supported FC Dallas in MLS since the 2011 season. The 2010 MLS Cup final was the first MLS game I ever watched, and their 2011 home opener was the first pro soccer game I ever attended. Over the past eight seasons, there’s been one overwhelmingly common complaint among fans: “FC Dallas needs a proper forward.” This comes in a few variations, all containing the desire for some sort of idealized goal-scoring superstar.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this and wondering how to approach such an article. My first idea was to compare FC Dallas to league averages and adjust for the team’s total goals scored, but that ended up without any meaningful conclusion. My second idea was an attempt to prove that Dallas can do just fine without a proper forward, but that ended up getting both boring and directly contradicting the point of this piece. My third idea was to take every Dallas DP, forward, attacking mid, etc., and figure out the best values by taking the statistics from those players, comparing it to their wages and analyzing the outcomes. That was alright, but I honestly lost interest pretty quickly.

So, I’ve come up with a new plan, one I’m sticking to. Let’s take a walk through Dallas’ history of designated players and their impact, or lack thereof, on the club’s performance.

We begin in 2007 with the introduction of the designated player rule, and the signing of Denílson.

Denílson de Oliveira made a splash at age 17 with his debut for São Paulo FC back in 1994, winning that year’s Copa CONMEBOL and earning a spot on the Brazilian senior national team. His profile grew in 1997 as he won the Golden Ball at the Confederations Cup. In 1998, he joined Real Betis on a then-world-record transfer fee of £21.5 million (~$35 million). After five years spent with Betis, he found himself riding the bench in Spain and out of the national team. He spent a single season with Bordeaux in Ligue 1, starting regularly as his new club finished second, but found his wage demands unmet by season’s end. He then joined Saudi side Al-Nassr in the summer of 2006, making 15 appearances and scoring three goals.

On Aug. 24, 2007, Denílson joined FC Dallas as the club’s first designated player for a guaranteed $879,936 and made his debut on Sept. 1, as a 55’ sub against DC United. What followed ranks among the biggest disappointments for designated player signings in league history. After scoring a penalty kick goal against Toronto in his first start, Denílson went scoreless through six starts, finding himself out of the starting lineup by the Open Cup final in October. He finished the season with just the one penalty kick goal, no assists and a grand total of 606 minutes played, and had his option declined in the offseason. FC Dallas offered him a new, non-DP contract at a much lower wage and was turned down, with Denílson joining Palmeiras in his native Brazil.

Following three goals and 30 appearances, mostly off the bench, Denílson turned down several offers from Europe, mainly on wage issues, and eventually signed for Hải Phòng F.C. in Vietnam for the 2009 season for a V.League record salary of $5.5 million. He scored a goal from a free kick on his debut, got injured not long after, and was gone only three weeks after signing. His debut in Vietnam ended up being his final professional appearance, as he was injured not long after. He signed a contract in Greece with then-first-division Kavala F.C. He showed up out of shape, out of form, and without having participated in meaningful training for over six months. Needless to say, the club was unhappy, and despite the club’s struggles, he was cut just four months into his contract without ever making an appearance.

FC Dallas’ leading scorers that season were Carlos Ruiz and Juan Toja. Ruiz actually posted his worst season for Dallas that year with only seven goals, but was comparatively a bargain at $435,000. He left Dallas during the offseason, ending a highly successful three-year stint with the club in which he scored 31 goals and assisted on another 10. After initially being traded to the LA Galaxy, Ruiz was injured during the season opener and found himself replaced by Edson Buddle in the starting lineup. After making 10 appearances, mostly off the bench, he was traded to Toronto FC and unfortunately failed to succeed. He spent the next few years a journeyman, playing for Olimpia in Paraguay, Veracruz in Mexico, and DC United. He then returned to his original club Municipal in Guatemala, playing 18 months in what was arguably his most successful spell in nearly a decade. Finally, he signed on as a late-season addition with FC Dallas in the latter half of 2016, making just a single appearance as a substitute but scoring a goal in his 14 minutes on the field. He retired at the end of the year.

Toja, meanwhile, had a very unusual career. He was a regular in Dallas until suffering an ankle injury during the 2007 All-Star Game, which led to a reduced role and declining performance the following season. In August 2008, he moved to Steaua București in Romania. His strong performances there allowed him to crack the senior Colombian national team for the first time that October. His performance began to wane with Steaua, and he was transferred to Aris in Greece on a three-year deal, but following two seasons in which he again failed to meet expectations, he returned to MLS through the allocation process in August 2012 and joined the New England Revolution. By then, injuries had taken a significant toll on his abilities, and he made just 23 appearances through the end of 2013 and quietly retired at age 28.

This concludes part one of many on the ongoing struggle for FC Dallas to sign a top-tier goalscorer. As long as Dallas continues to sign designated players who fail to meet expectations, there will be fresh material to discuss.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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