TORONTO - Designated players are evaluated on their ability to improve the players around them.
As evident in TFC’s 4-2 win in Columbus on Saturday, no one has benefited more from the arrival of Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings than TFC’s original designated player — Julian de Guzman.
Many thought Frings would replace de Guzman following two seasons littered with poor performances and injuries. While a lot was made of what Toronto’s high-priced signings would provide individually, many overlooked what their additions would mean for others.
Since then, Frings and de Guzman have continued to elevate a midfield partnership with the former German international stepping up and relieving much of the pressure that was thrust upon the Canadian when he signed an expensive contract in 2009.
The addition of two important pieces looks to have reinstilled the confidence de Guzman has lacked the past two seasons.
Completing close to 92% of 70 attempted passes over the weekend, de Guzman’s tidy distribution and defensive work is becoming so consistent that many are coming to terms with the idea he can succeed with the right pieces around him.
“The players that I’m around, you feel the comfort just playing with them,” de Guzman told the club’s website. “The stronger my knee is, the more confident I get.”
Toronto’s three designate players combined for two goals and three assists Saturday with de Guzman contributing the eventual winner and a stoppage-time assist to Koevermans off a masterful individual effort deep in TFC’s half.
“You see a lot more football being played with confidence,” de Guzman said. “The first half was a great example of what we’re capable of doing and the potential we have.”
Considering how far the Reds have come since the opening match this year, it goes without saying that head coach Aron Winter’s mid-summer signings have the club heading in a positive direction.
Wins over Champions League runner-up Salt Lake and the league’s Eastern Conference leader Saturday demonstrate that.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The loss to TFC was “embarrassing” and “against the worst team,” according to Columbus Crew captain Chad Marshall. The towering central defender’s disappointment was evident in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch … Strong words from a central defender whose team has conceded 10 times in two matches … Numerous reports have the Galaxy offering David Beckham a one-year extension in the neighbourhood of $9 million … With a 1-0 win over Colorado last week, the LA Galaxy became the first club to qualify for the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs … After watching Colorado win MLS Cup last year after a seventh-place finish saw it compete in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, the league’s playoff system is facing similar controversy.
With substantial imbalance between the league’s two conferences (there are five Western Conference teams with better records than the east-leading Crew), this year’s playoff system is under fire.
The Galaxy are currently seven points clear of second-place Seattle Sounders in the race for the Supporters’ Shield — the award given to the league’s top finisher during the regular season. As a result, if the playoffs started today, L.A. would host the winner of the Colorado-Houston wildcard match in the Western Conference semifinals.
The top-seeded Galaxy would then move on to play the winner of the other Western semifinal between the Sounders and FC Dallas.
Therein lies the problem.
Although the Galaxy, Sounders and FC Dallas are currently the top three clubs in the West, and in the overall MLS standings, they will likely meet before the Cup final.
Although the Western Conference’s fourth-place finisher — currently Salt Lake — will be forced to play in the wildcard round (the top three teams from each conference automatically qualify for the conference semifinals), should they advance, the Royals would move to the Eastern Conference bracket and play a much weaker opponent in Columbus.
With such imbalance among the conferences, the club that finishes fourth in the West will earn an easier path to MLS Cup than the team that wins the Supporters’ Shield.
With 18 teams currently broken up into two even conferences, one has to wonder if the Montreal Impact’s MLS entrance will force MLS to move to a 19-team single table … In terms of Montreal’s entrance next season, MLS clubs are beginning to formulate protection lists ahead of the approaching expansion draft … While this year’s expansion draft rules haven’t been released, MLS will likely follow previous formats. Montreal will likely be permitted to select no more than one player from another MLS club outside the 11 players a club elects to protect. Home grown players and Generation Adidas signings can’t be selected and designated players with no-trade clauses must be protected … Assuming the Reds will protect their three designated players, ’keeper and a few new acquisitions, Toronto will be forced to make difficult decisions come November … Sports Business Journal reported yesterday that MLS is poised to sell a 25% stake in Soccer United Marketing (SUM) — a sponsorship company owned by MLS to gain media exposure. The 25% stake is said to be worth close to $150 million as SUM controls U.S. television rights for the next two World Cups.