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Blanco and the DP Effect

My story in Sunday's dead-tree edition is about Blanco and the resurgent Fire. Many of you will deride me for covering hype over substance, and will argue that Blanco has occasionally--Thursday, for example--been a dud on the field. Well, maybe. And there are obviously lots of factors in play with the Fire's rise from the ashes, if I can destroy that particular metaphor.

But here's one stat that jumped out at me, after some quick research last week. There are currently five designated players in MLS, not counting those who were grandfathered in: Blanco, Beckham, Angel, Reyna and Denilson. Blanco's the only one whose team has a winning record in MLS competition when he's on the field. That's a pretty striking fact, as far as I'm concerned. Blanco has figured in eight goals through nine MLS matches, and but for that disastrous injury-time goal at Dallas on Thursday, the Fire would have had more wins in his nine matches than in their previous 16.

Like I said, there were the two other international additions, the coaching change, some healed injuries and the rest, but at a minimum Blanco seems to have helped inject a spark into the Fire's locker room. Sorry, I'll stop with the Fire language, I promise.

In the meantime, as we wait for today's match, here are some bonus quotes on Blanco and the DP effect, after the jump. Interesting to hear your thoughts on the Blanco signing; worth the $2.6 mil thus far, or not? There will be a separate thread for gameday thoughts, coming soon. And no, I'm not in Chicago.

United GM Dave Kasper on D.C.'s lack of a DP: "There's a great deal of planning that goes along with it, not just planning of your roster, but what position you're going to bring the designated player in, how you're going to play, the qualities the designated player brings, but most important the availability. It takes a lot of time to plan, advanced planning. We do quite a bit of pre-planning, and we knew going into last season what we were looking to accomplish in terms of player personnel changes for this year. So we had a plan, and we put that plan in motion last fall. Luciano was obviously a part of it. Fred, trading Freddy, trading Alecko, all these pieces that we had started to plan last fall were put into place, and to now suddenly do a 180 and change your thinking, there wasn't enough time."

Kasper on 2008 and the DP: "It's something we continue to look at very closely for the future. Obviously we have a great team, a team that's positioned very well right now, so we continue to analyze that and we'll sit down and take another close look at it at the end of the season."

Kasper on a certain Argentinian who maybe could be a DP in the future, theoretically: "There's nothing really to comment on."

Tom Soehn on Blanco: "Like everybody else, we're going to close him, kill his passing lanes, hopefully get after him so he's his head down, the normal things. I don't think it's any different."

Troy Perkins on the Blanco Effect: "Obviously with his signing, the first star-struck idea was 'All the Mexicans know who he is and they're in Chicago,' and with him signing there it was a big draw. But the overall product, I think, has got to be better to keep those fans coming back, to keep them interested. They get tired of seeing Blanco, the same old thing every week. Certainly he hasn't had the effect of a David Beckham. I think really only David Beckham has been a real star that's brought people out."

Perkins on DP's and D.C.: "Instead of expecting one player to bring something special, we expect all 11 players to do something special. We're not going to rely on that, and I don't think we ever will rely on that one player. We're in it for the quality of the total product on the field, not just one guy, not just that star-studded poster child."

Brian Carroll on the same: "I think it varies from club to club. And I think designated players can certainly help, and if you look around the league at some of the designated players, some of them have really contributed to their team's performance. And Blanco's another guy that certainly raises the level at Chicago. Just because they did it and we didn't, doesn't mean one way is right and another way is wrong."

Perkins on containing Blanco: "The biggest thing he poses is just that ability to play balls anywhere. It's a resemblance to Etcheverry and his ability just to find players with balls and options that you don't really think of sometimes. You've got to be on your toes with him and be honest. We can't cheat, or else he's gonna catch you. Respect that fact, but at the same case we've got to get after him a little bit and don't let him have time and space to play."

Ben Olsen on Blanco: "He's one of those guys that as a teammate you love, and as an opponent he's one of those guys that can get under peoples' skin. But I've got no problem with that guy."

Jaime Moreno on Blanco: "Forget about Blanco, whoever it is, just take care of everyone."

Chicago President and CEO John Guppy on the acquisition: "Clearly one of the significant reasons that we're playing better is the impact of Blanco. I mean, he's a supremely skilled player that brings qualities to the field that very rarely are seen in Major League Soccer. His ability to see the game, and the vision he has on the field I think are second to none. His passing is tremendous, he obviously knows how to score goals, and above that I think he's just brought a lot of confidence to all the other players, which has helped make it a better team."

Guppy on the buzz in Chicago: "You just feel it. It's out there. You'll overhear conversations in the community, where people are talking about the Fire. If we had a 50-person youth soccer group coming to our game before, now that 50-person group has grown to 65 or 75, just because there's a greater interest in the team, in part because of what he's brought to us in the past couple of months."

Guppy on the ethnic impact (Don't forget, today is Hispanic Heritage Day at the Park): "He's just helped make us a more entertaining team in general, and I think soccer fans, no matter where they're from, are appreciating that. Because again, the team's playing better soccer, we're playing more entertaining soccer, we're playing winning soccer. You don't have to be a Mexican soccer fan to appreciate that."

ESPN Deportes's Fernando Palomo: "He's very competitive, and he's not going to give everybody the chance to talk bad about him. He's not going to give anyone the chance to second guess his decision or the league's decision to bring him here. Criticism has driven him from the beginning, that's just his nature. I think he competes here with the sense of responsibility, the full sense of responsibility, I guess, knowing that if he fails, he's going to hear it. And he doesn't want to hear that."

By Dan Steinberg  |  September 23, 2007; 12:01 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Next: Matchday 26: DCU at Chicago

Comments

Not sure what duds you're talking about with regard to Blanco. He didn't do much Thursday night, but he's played in 9 matches and has probably been a major factor in the game in 7 of those 9.

Posted by: cesba | September 23, 2007 1:04 AM | Report abuse

Good stuff, Steinberg.

Troy - you've gotta start watching more Mexican TV (there's plenty of hotties on those telenovelas). Cuauhtemoc Blanco hasn't boosted attendance in Chicago's road games as much as Beckham did for the Galaxy but he's still had a significant impact on the crowds. There were definitely Blanco fans in good numbers at Dallas on Thursday night.

But Blanco's not just hype. His addition has genuinely improved the Fire and they didn't gut the rest of their roster to make room for him. Chicago's been helped by other factors like the signings of Wanchope and Conde and the return of Rolfe and Chris Armas have all helped the new coach get off to a good start. (Is Mapp still hurt?)

Interesting to hear Dave Kasper's take on the DP acquisition for DC. He says the obvius things about one of these signings needing lots of planning and making sure he fits the team's needs. Not sure if Veron would have filled that need or not, but DC's playing system is firing on all cylinders so no need for a change at this point.

Posted by: garbaggio | September 23, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

i would agree on the marketing success aspect of this strategy, but on the entertaining and technical value, it has become clear that MLS will have to do more to elevate the level of play on the field.

one player alone cannot save a team. and as other team become more and more competitive, teams will have to go out and fill in the gaps where those may be especially when they are facing foreign teams in the CONCACAF champions cup, international friendlies, and the likes. if they don't, MLS will always be viewed as a second or third tier league where old foreign players go to die. It will no longer have the capacity to attract young superstars such as Becks to make it more attractive.

I think more needs to be done. DP is not the only answer. or else this will be NASL all over again.

Posted by: justsayin' | September 23, 2007 5:51 PM | Report abuse

there is also a big can of worms looming in the MLS: there is too big of a gap between the develpment player salaries with the DP players.

Something will have to be done to resolve that. When you have potential young players coming out of High School or College foregoing the MLS to play in the USL because of the big gap in salary, something is definitely wrong with that.

and when you have players like Emilio making less than 1M but producing more than DP, you can expect a rebellion to start brewing in that camp as well.

Finally, as long as there's an exodus of great American talent such as Dempsey and Adu to Europe because of the difference in level of play (but also level of paycheck) MLS will always have to fight that label of 2nd tier league because of its inability to retain its own home-grown talent.

Lots and lots of fires brewing in MLS will soon explode if they are not addressed.

Posted by: justsayin' | September 23, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Blanco has been down right amazing. I thought he would pull a Lothar, or be a locker room cancer, I was very wrong. He would probably be beating out Emilio for the MVP if he had come at the beginning the season. After only really watching when he was wearing the tri-colores it is a lot of fun to watch him now.

Blanco has also had significant draw in Chicago. He has done more for his home team's attendance than Beckham did for the Galaxy's because Chicago had more tickets to sell. I don't know what the new ownership will do, but Chicago has the ability to become a top organization across the board next year.

Posted by: Kinney | September 24, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I agree with justsayin'. There are a lot of issues to address, but many of these are good problems to have, and I do believe they'll get sorted out.

I also _JUST CAN'T WAIT_ to see who DC brings in once they get around to it. I go to the games anyway, so it's not like they'll get more ticket sales out of me, but maybe it'll be easier to bring some of my other friends along to the stadium.

Posted by: David | September 24, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

justsaying: I would be super shocked if the salaries aren't increased appreciably after '09 when the CBA is renegotiated. I don't see it happening before then. The player's union knows that a strike would kill the league and thus any prospect of making money as a professional for many of them.

Also, the talk of 'gap' in salary is a bit off. That's like implying that most people are going to go play in Japan because of gap in baseball. There are people on the Yankees making $250K per year on pro contracts on the Yankees to Alex Rodriguez' $25 million per year. So the gaps occur everywhere in pro sports

The biggest issue is making the league a place where people are seen and picked up by Europe. We are already in a front running seat there amongst new leagues, the challenge is to continue to increase the level of play and exposure to keep that up.

we have to face the reality that for at lest another 10 years MLS will be nothing more than a feeder league to Europe by and large. That's not a bad thing. Argentina is a La Liga/Serie A feeder league and they seem to keep it entertaining and competitive.
We have the resources and the allure to make it more than that, but it's going to take a while until we can be a more self contained entity like the FMF

Posted by: papa bear | September 24, 2007 8:26 PM | Report abuse

He's helped them on the field, in the standings and filling the stadium. I'd say that's a success.

A fraction of what Becks is paid, but $1m more than Angel. Surely his commerical/ticket selling upside will have justified that?

Any info on Fire shirt sales or attendance impact?

Posted by: Aljarov | September 25, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

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