The Past, Present and Future of Sporting KC DPs

How the Designated Player moniker has helped – and somewhat hindered – Sporting Kansas City
by Katherine Rupp   |   Wednesday, November 06, 2013

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.

Current Sporting KC designated player Claudio Bieler has had ups and downs this year.

But it’s hard not to expect it, given that Sporting KC itself has juggled through DP candidates over the years. From the early days of Claudio Lopez to the possible future signings, Sporting KC has been inconsistently vying for a top player.

Lack of production

Underneath the pre-rebranded name of Sporting KC, the Kansas City Wizards had just a handful of designated players, of whom were all met with excitement but somewhat fell into the gray area of disenchantment.

Claudio Lopez played for the Wiz for two seasons with what you could say – at the time – were successful seasons. The then 34-year-old scored 13 goals over the two seasons he was featured. That number now seems menial, especially with the scrutiny that players are put under just a few short (five) years later.

Although not SKC, one example of MLS fan’s scoring analysis of a DP is the production rate of San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski from last season to this season. The table-topping goal-scoring rate last season – with which Wondo tied the all-time league leader Roy Lassiter with 27 goals – showed that DP’s are (usually) worth what the club pays. This season, the San Jose man ended with a team-high 11 goals.

In addition to Lopez, Kansas City, in 2011, included Jéférson and Omar Bravo on the payroll. Jéférson, to some, is known as a bit of a bust after producing zero goals; Bravo, on the other hand, although he did not acclimate to the American style of the game as others would have liked, had nine goals throughout the season.

Rumors to realization

The rumors were swirling this past offseason when Sporting Kansas City were looking for a DP to make an impact for the 2013 season. Plus, Google most likely had a field day from SKC fans searching for the phrases, ‘Claudio Bieler LDU Quito,’ or ‘Claudio Bieler acquired by Sporting Kansas City,’ or maybe even: ‘How do you pronounce Bieler?’

The Argentine-born Bieler was on fire at the beginning of the season, netting 10 goals in the 28 games that he has played, with six of those goals coming in the first 10 games of the season. He also scored twice in June, once in July, and once in September.

More recently during the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, there were lots of gripes and complaints as the first-year DP was not in the 18. That decision from manager Peter Vermes ended up being a ‘tactical decision.’ In addition, Bieler was an unused sub in the Oct. 26 match against Philadelphia and the CONCACAF Champions League game on Oct. 23 against CD Olimpia, but stepped on the pitch as a substitute in a regular season league match on the Oct. 18 against DC United.

Although Bieler was injured during part of the season, he’s healthy now, so what’s this ‘tactical decision’ that Vermes spoke about?

Is Vermes not confident in his DP’s scoring rate or is the DP not confident in his production?

It’s likely many people wanted (and yes, still want) to see goals on goals on goals with more Kansas City goal celebrations led by Bieler.

Bieler will at least make the game-day roster for the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semis, but am a bit skeptical about him making the starting XI. And to think, if (and that’s a huge IF) New England advances to the Eastern Conference Finals, it could be Bieler’s last game for the season (with another big if) – if he plays.

Future prowess

Do Sporting Kansas City, with only one DP signed as of now, take on one or two more (since the league maximum is three per team) who have a prowess for goal scoring? It might seem enticing, but KC likely won’t be in the market for a second or third DP.

Vermes seems to embrace the transition from young – possibly homegrown but need not be (i.e. post-college or international) – players and honing their skills to fit the Sporting system. If Vermes continues to be coach, then that developmental system will continue as well. The more time players are brought up together in the same system, the better on field chemistry will be, and that has been seen through PV’s tenure. However, don’t dismiss the importance of new players coming in year by year to freshen up and add life to the team, and what’s maybe more important, to light a fire under those players who may have become stagnant because of the lack of perceived competition.

Although he did light a little fire under the forward’s feet, what seems to have been the case of what happened to Bieler when he was brought onto the team is that he had to become acclimated to PV’s coaching style, playing style, the team chemistry, as well as living in America and the English language. That’s a lot to take in for joining a new soccer league in a country with which you’re not familiar.

Plus, it’s possible that Bieler’s confidence dropped after his injury. But with his health back, and though his form is not to the level it was before, it’d be good to see Bieler contributing more next season. And that’s not out of high expectations, but rather to see him do well for a team that is always grinding for trophies.

But the questions remain: Is a DP someone that SKC need or more a luxury that’s nice to have? Does Kansas City start to overhaul some of the central midfield roster to bring in natural wingers to help a DP like Bieler receive the service he needs from the flanks?

Regardless of questions on any and all future DPs, I do hope that Bieler wows fans again next season like he did at the beginning of the 2013 season.

NEXT UP: November 6 – MLS playoffs: Sporting KC vs. New England Revolution, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan. 9 p.m. EST, NBCSN.

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.