The Crew's pursuit of a Designated Player 'Hit A Roadblock' in the words of Technical Director Brian Bliss today to the Dispatch's Adam Jardy. There probably aren't many fans that are surprised that the team is unlikely to get a deal done for a game changing offensive player. It always felt like a long shot that a deal would get done.
Historically, Columbus hasn't been the destination of too many marquee players. Brian McBride came to the team in the initial MLS draft back in 1996, staying 8 years before moving to England to further his career.
The Crew have had two Designated Player salaried players in the DP era. The legendary Guillermo Barros Schelotto played his first two seasons under the DP cap, but was elevated to DP status in 2009. His contract option required a salary bump to nearly $700,000 and the Crew exercised it.
The nomadic Andres Mendoza was in a similar situation. He came to the team in late 2010 and then his contract option was at a DP level of $500,000 for 2011.
The team has even had a few near misses. Most notable is Polish forward Maciej Żurawski. He was reportedly on his way to Columbus several times in late January 2008 before transferring from Celtic to Greek team Larissa. He was hoped to be the missing piece of young and hungry team. It turned out it wasn't necessary, the Crew won MLS Cup behind the leadership of Guille.
Crew President Mark McCullers told MLSSoccer's Craig Merz, "I've always said I'd rather make no move than make a mistake,". The team has often appeared hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal and McCullers words back that up.
The team has a razor thin margin of error. There is enough money in the budget from Hunt Sports Group for one Designated Player. The budget certainly isn't enough to attract a player like Tierry Henry, Robbie Keane, or Torsten Frings. Any offer the team tables is unlikely to be a multimillion dollar deal for a famous player.
The team is likely targeting a player who can be a game changer, but likely has a significant flaw or weakness. The player might be one dimentional, Andres Mendoza was a poaching goal scorer and little else. This can also be age, Guille was 36 when he got his DP contract. A team like the Crew has to strike a delicate balance, they can't afford to miss on talent, even if it's a mid-tier salary player like Blaise Mfuko or Luis Landin.
One very interesting option is to go and recruit a young talented player. It can be a substantial risk, any young player could end up being a bust, but often these are players driven to improve and move to the next career challenge.
Dallas picked up 19 year old Columbian Fabián Castillo and Philadelphia brought in the still only 23 Freddy Adu. These are players commanding lesser salaries and also count less against the cap.
The results have been mixed, but with the rising profile of MLS, many Central and South Americans can use the league as the stepping stone to Europe. The Crew can take advantage of that type of relationship.
It appears Crew faithful will continue to wait for the game changer the offense needs. It's not a surprise, but it is a disappointment.