Cuauhtémoc Blanco is one of the most successful Designated Players in Major League Soccer history. Scoring 16 times in 62 games over the course of three seasons, the Mexican international was more than an impact player on the field. He raised Chicago’s profile off of it.
The rest of the Fire’s Designated Players have been failures: A series of short-term, no reward moves that have created this huge divide on the Fire’s DP record. On one side is Blanco, who in so many ways epitomizes the original vision of what big-ticket items could bring to Major League Soccer. On the other is players like Nery Castillo, Álvaro Fernández, Freddie Ljundberg, Sherjill MacDonald, Frederico Puppo, and Árevalo Rios – a talented group, but one where every member failed to have a significant impact with Chicago.
The latest member of that group: Juan Luis Anangonó. As the club announced today, the Ecuadorian forward has been sent to LDU Quito on a six-month loan. While the possibility of a return wasn’t ruled out, there’s a good chance the Fire’s latest Designated Player has seen his last minute with the club.
From the Fire’s website:
“Both the club and Juan were looking for an option for him to gain consistent playing time,” said Fire head coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop. “The loan has been in the works for a while now and both parties agreed that it is best that Juan return to Ecuador for the next six months and continue to play full matches. We’re looking forward to keeping tabs and monitoring his progress.”
With the emergence of Quincy Amarikwa up top, Anangonó had been relegated to an impact sub’s role, with 11 of his 15 appearances coming off the bench. In 470 minutes, he’d only scored two goals; one goal every 2.6 (90-minute) games.
That’s decent production for a backup, assuming that backup is making backup wages. For a Designated Player, it’s a reason to get him off the roster.
Unfortunately for Chicago, those rates were actually improvements on 2013’s performance. After signing in the middle of the season, Anangonó made 13 appearances, nine starts (840 minutes), and only scored twice: One goal every 4.7 (90-minute) games.
To get back to the headline, can we add Agangonó’s name to the Castillos and MacDonalds of the Chicago world? With the door technically open to a return, that may be pretty premature, but with a qualifier, we can take care of that problem: To this point, Anangonó’s record looks right at home. He’s earned his place among the collection of disappointments Chicago’s given the DP label.
So what’s going on with the Fire? Why do they keep falling into this trap? What are they doing that other teams aren’t?
Maybe it’s not that they’re doing something different as much as they’re doing it more often. They’re not the only team that’s spent big on low-production, veteran forward from overseas hoping they’ll shine in Major League Soccer, but usually, people who produce in MLS were also producing before they arrived. While there are exceptions in each category (Jerry Bengtson one way, Fanendo Adi the other), players like Marco Di Vaio and Tim Cahill were scoring goals before their planes hit the ground. Kris Boyd and Hamdi Salihi weren’t. Unfortunately, Chicago keeps going back to that well.
The other commonality is the mid-season aspect of most of these moves, whether they’re signings (MacDonald, Castillo, Anangonó, etc.) or trades (Ljundberg, Fernández). If you’re not willing to spend big on a player that’s consciously choosing Major League Soccer (obvious ones here: Beckham, Henry), you’re left sifting through players who see MLS as a fallback plan. For Frank Rost and Mista, Major League Soccer may have been more the option than an option.
With Yallop now calling the shots in Chicago, hopefully there’s a new outlook. Unless these strategies are baked into the walls in Bridegview, the former San Jose boss should break this string of disappointing choices.
Unfortunately for Yallop, the Fire are no longer acting in a space where only a few teams could afford Designated Players. Before he released Anangonó, every MLS team had used at least on DP spot. With the Ecuadorian gone, a Chicago team that’s had eight different DPs on the books is the only team without one.
Finding valuable, high-cost additions is no longer a mere competitive advantage. It’s a requirement. If you don’t do it, you’re not keeping up.