DeMerit, Defenders, and DPs

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | View Comments
June 23, 2010 - Tshwane/Pretoria, Guateng, South Africa - 23 JUN 2010: Jay DeMerit (USA). The United States National Team defeated the Algeria National Team 1-0 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa in a 2010 FIFA World Cup Group C match.

by Brian Mechanick

When Justin Mapp was traded to Philadelphia Union for allocation money, rumors immediately started floating that the Chicago Fire were going to sign an additional Designated Player, to go with big signing Nery Castillo earlier this month. Speculation ranges from the Fire bringing in another Mexican player to try to draw Chicago’s coveted Hispanic fan base to bringing DaMarcus Beasley back to his former club.

Around the MLS-sphere, a few have wondered if USMNT mainstay Jay DeMerit might return to Chicago, where he played four years at the University of Illinois-Chicago and one with Chicago Fire Premier (the development side of the Fire). At age 30, DeMerit has said that he might return home to the league that didn’t draft him seven years ago and set him off on his unique soccer odyssey. Although fans would love to see Jay back in the USA, would it make sense for the Fire to make him a DP?

For those unfamiliar with the DP rule, there is a minimum salary of $335,000, which goes under the league salary cap; the rest of the player’s salary is paid by the individual team. No defender has ever earned the title, and the logic for why is very solid. Defenders are not as able to impact the game as much as attacking players, and thus are unable to draw fans or excitement to the team needed to offset a DP salary.

Currently the highest earning defender in MLS is Chad Marshall, who is earning $250,000 in base salary (plus another $70,000 in bonus compensation) this year. As a the MLS Defender of the Year two years in a row, its hard to argue that Marshall is nothing if not an elite MLS center back. Yet if DeMerit were to come back as the Fire’s DP, he would earn at least 40% more than Marshall. DeMerit is a better player than Marshall, as the last two years of the US National Team has proved, but it’s difficult to justify him getting at least 100 grand more than Chad to be a DP.

Even if DeMerit were worth a low-DP salary, the external benefits of signing him are few. DeMerit has never been a renowned name to the casual US soccer fan, so it’s hard to believe he will increase the Fire’s attendance. His tendency for rough and tumble defending will do nothing to turn the Fire into a more dynamic, exciting team. And perhaps most damaging financially, if DeMerit were to become a DP, he would cost Chicago their last “free” DP. Having to pay $250,000 to get a third DP has to be a prohibitive cost for any team signing their second DP, as it may be hard to stomach for any club not named the Galaxy or Red Bulls to pay such a fee just for the right to shell out at least half a million dollars on another designated player.

Going against this logic is New York Red Bulls near-official signing of defender Rafael Marquez, the famed Mexican of Barcelona FC. While Marquez can play the defensive midfield role and has skill going forward, his rumored two million dollar wage flys in the face of traditional “attacking players only” DP logic. But as perhaps the most famed Mexican player of his generation, nobody can doubt his ability to draw NYC-area’s large Mexican population into Red Bull Arena. And with the deep pockets of Red Bull able to lie out the cash for such a venture, you can’t condemn the Red Bulls for making a move that makes such sense on and off the field.

In the end, a Chicago Fire fan could be excited about DeMerit coming in as a low-salaried DP. Partnering him with Wilman Conde would give Chicago the league’s best center-half pairing, and give the Fire a legitimate shot at making a push for their first MLS Cup since 1998. With MLS salaries on the rise with a higher salary cap and more DP’s, the Fire might start a trend in giving center backs a push into DP territory. Still, the high-cost remains an issue. A referendum is coming on defenders in MLS: stay the course and look for value along the back, or take a risk to jump in on a higher-priced defender.

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