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Is Omar Gonzalez worth LA Galaxy’s third Designated Player spot?

Aug 5, 2013, 11:04 PM EDT

Omar Gonzalez-Oct

Amid SI.com’s report on how Clint Dempsey arrived in Seattle was a small bit of news regarding Omar Gonzalez. You know who I’m talking about, right? Big guy, handsome, smiles a lot. Does a great scud missile impression on opposition crosses. Hates Steven Lenhart (so many do). Well, last year’s MLS Cup Final Most Valuable Player is out of contract at the end of the year, leading to a season’s worth of subtle speculation where he’ll play next season.

According to the post, LA Galaxy are “expected to soon announce” their third Designated Player spot will be filled by Gonzalez.  The 24-year-old Texan would presumably bypass an opportunity to move to Europe (or Mexico) and stay where he’s played since 2009, though there’s no word on whether taking David Beckham’s DP spot would also give Omar corresponding rights to his parking space.

The value for money will all depend on Gonzalez’s new salary, but good luck convincing Los Angeles he’s not worthy of their Designated Player spot. As last year’s championship game showed, at his best, Gonzalez is the most dominant player in Major League Soccer, and while it might be easier to find a defender who can give you acceptable performance (implying you should allocate your resources elsewhere), Gonzalez is the rare defender that forces you to reconsider: How many more goals is he preventing than another defender; how much would it cost to replace that; would it cost less to replace that production elsewhere; and would that replacement be as marketable as Gonzalez?

Screw it, Bruce Arena’s probably thinking. When LA struggled without Gonzalez to start last season, he may have seen all he needed. Even if somebody sat him down, lauded his handling of the U.S. in 2002, then tried to argue the money’d be put to better use elsewhere, there may be a set of factors specific to this Galaxy that trump your logic (and ass-kissing). Did you see how much better the team was when Gonzalez returned? Or how Omar played in the playoffs? How LA doesn’t have to play with a dedicated ball-winner in the middle, thanks to Gonzalez’s quality? How the near-impossibility of practically replacing him might force Arena to change too much of a winning formula?

Screw it, he might tell Chris Klein. If we can afford to keep him — if we’ve come to the point where, after chasing Kaká, Frank Lampard, and Gio dos Santos, where we’re not landing a big marketable sort — let’s just keep Omar. Let’s just suck it up and keep one of the most important guys to our last two title teams.

For LA, however, it’s not that simple. More than any team in the league (even the Clint Dempsey-laden Sounders), the Galaxy’s Designated Player spots are precious. As the Beckham signing illustrated, the talent LA is capable of luring to California means they’re playing by a different set of rules. When they sign a third Designated Player, filling up all their over-budget roster spots, there’s a huge opportunity cost, one that complicates any pure talent-based evaluation.

In that respect, how wise is it for LA to make Gonzalez the second defender in Major League Soccer history to occupy a Designated Player spot (Rafa Marquez, New York, 2010-2012)? If we’re talking about a Real Salt Lake, Houston, or Sporting Kansas City filling their last DP place, it’s a totally different equation. Those are all great organizations for whom anybody should want to play, but the opportunity costs on their DPs just aren’t as steep.

At the same time, this is a choice the Galaxy may not have to make. LA already has Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan as Designated Players, but one of those all-stars is out of contract at the end of the year. And as Donovan’s recently said, he’s plans on listening to offers. Given his exploits this winter, it’d be foolish to predict Donovan’s future, but given the experience he had during two stints with Everton, would it be so surprising to see this new, more mature, open-minded Donovan take another plunge?

That’s speculation for another space. The point: Just as we can’t evaluate Gonzalez’s value-for-money until we know the numbers, we also can’t assess the cost of that Designated Player spot until we know what’s happening with Donovan. Will Gonzalez sign on with a team that has one Designated Player? Or will be be taking that final, precious Designated Player spot?

And in either situation, is he worth it?

  1. midtec2005 - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    “And in either situation, is he worth it?”

    Yes, but one has to wonder what kind of interest he might get from abroad…

    • talgrath - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      Which is exactly why they might give him a DP contract. With a contract in place for the next few years, MLS could scoop up a transfer fee come next summer for him.

  2. phredicles - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    Yes. Yes, he is.

    How Donovan plays the rest of the season will go a long way towards answering whether he should continue to be a DP. If he plays like he did in the Gold Cup, that answer is probably also yes. If he plays more like he has the first part of the MLS season, I would say not.

    • bayoor75 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      Donovan will always be a DP – he is that good. I am not as high on OG as some of you. Let his contract run out and let him set his own price. He will not get many opportunities outside of the US and many smaller footballing countries (league-wise) like Norway and Belgium. Like most American defenders, he lacks ball skills. He can defend, tackle and head, but he can’t pass or assist in attacking. Yes, he’s scored a lot of goals off corner kicks, but he can’t be compared to Koscielny, Vertongen, Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Vermalen or Vidic. That’s why Oguchi couldn’t cut it in Europe (even at his best).

      • bayoor75 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM

        Ok, I withdraw my opposition. Apparently, DPs can earn as low as $1 million. OG is worth $1 – 2 million.

  3. valiantdraws - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:54 AM

    Plus, it might be a way to leverage the future. Sign him for a few more years, and then after one more year with LA, sell him.

    • takethelongview - Aug 6, 2013 at 2:09 AM

      “Leverage the future…” That is precisely why SKC resigned Kamara, Besler, and Zusi. In the case of the latter two, the players can also ensure consistent minutes with their clubs ahead of the World Cup, something not guaranteed in a new setting (as Dempsey learned), then reassess transfer opportunities next summer. Heinemann called these renewals a win-win for club and player(s)on the All-Star Game pre-game show last week. The same dynamic could be at work here. As long as LA doesn’t play hardball with any future transfer opportunities, Omar can get the raise he deserves, the club protects its years of investment, and the future chips fall where they will.

  4. dfstell - Aug 6, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    I’m not a huge fan of this move. It isn’t that Omar isn’t DP-worthy…..I’m just not sure that he’s DP worthy on the Galaxy. Galaxy can pay 3 DPs around $2-4MM each. A lot of teams have DPs at a $1MM salary and that’s probably where Omar slots in, That means Galaxy are leaving a few million in payroll on the table that they can’t spend.

    I thought the hold-up with Kaka was that Real Madrid wanted a transfer fee. Why can’t the league just pay the transfer fee for Kaka like they did for Dempsey? :)

  5. bellerophon30 - Aug 6, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    What I’m curious about is which Euro/Mexican teams/leagues Omar’s agent negotiated with. How high did he shoot before deciding that LA is where he needed/had to be? I’m surprised he didn’t at least take a shot over there.

    • talgrath - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      Omar is still under contract, while his agent can take a peek abroad, MLS would want a transfer fee, European and Mexican clubs might not be willing to pay a transfer fee for him when his contract ends mid-season for most of them, plenty of time for them to acquire him and stumble on without a good defender in the meantime.

      • bellerophon30 - Aug 6, 2013 at 5:29 PM

        Omar is out of contract at the end of the season, and we’ve reached the point where he can sign a pre-contract with a foreign team. Just the like the story today that said that Team America…….err…….Stoke City, has signed Juan Agudelo to such a contract, pending work permit approval. He can’t leave now on a free transfer, but can/will in January once the window opens back up.

      • talgrath - Aug 6, 2013 at 6:34 PM

        Exactly. Signing him as a DP now would lock him down so he can’t take a peek, at least without MLS being assured that he will comand a transfer fee.

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