Head coach Bruce Arena says the New England Revolution are set to add a third Designated Player in the attacking positions. It is critical that whoever they acquire fits with their current DPs, Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou.
In Major League Soccer, perhaps the most important aspect of building a title-contending team is the construction of the roster. Unlike in other leagues throughout the world where money can be lavishly splashed at every position, there are limitations on how the investment can be made in MLS.
Specifically, there are three players that do not count against the spending cap. These are known as Designated Players. Their wages are not considered against the cap, allowing teams to rival the wages of world football in the process.
Naturally, the best teams tend to be those that have the three most effective DPs. Toronto FC and Seattle made the most of at least two of their DP slots, as did Los Angeles FC and Atlanta United, the last two MLS MVPs coming from their three DPs.
But there is more to simply acquiring the best players possible in the DP slots. It is vital to use them wisely, such that you can then assemble the best team, yes, but it is also critical to do so in a way that is complementary and forms a stronger collective trio, not just talented individuals.
Take Atlanta United, for example. In 2018, their DPs were Ezequiel Barco, who did not play all that much, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. The latter two formed a mighty partnership and ripped their way through MLS time and again. So when Gonzalo Martinez arrived to replace Almiron last offseason, it was hoped that this trio would again light up the league, but new head coach Frank de Boer has struggled to find a system that best suits all three. He has switched between different formations, used players in different roles, and even dropped them for periods of the season.
The problem has been that the three DPs do not fit as they did in 2018. The two Martinez’s struggled to gain a connection, Barco wants to start out wide, but that exposes Gonzalo Martinez, while there was an increasing over-reliance on Josef to score the goals, which he was usually able to do, it must be said.
The New England Revolution are now looking to complete their three DP slots. After they signed creative midfielder Carles Gil last offseason and added Gustavo Bou midway through the year, head coach Bruce Arena confirmed this week that the New England Revolution are close to acquiring new DP forward.
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It remains to be seen who that player will be, and what position they will play. But one thing that the Revolution must ensure is that they fit with Gil and Bou. For instance, signing another possession-based, creative, in-between-the-lines attacking midfielder would be redundant. Gil is already that player. The New England Revolution need to build around him, not crowd him out.
Similarly, Bou has been used out wide and in a central role. Arena must decide where he sees the best use of the attacker and then recruit as a consequence of that decision.
Consequently, it might well be the case that the Revolution invest in a pacy winger who can beat defenders when dribbling and create chances from wide areas. This would create space for Gil centrally, provide scoring opportunities for Bou, and offer an attacking foil to a team that needs another option.
Making the most of your three DP slots is essential to builidng title-challenging team in MLS. But simply signing the best players is not necessarily making the most of the spots. Those players must complement one another. Arena and the New England Revolution must keep that in mind this offseason.