The final whistle blew on FC Dallas' season on Sunday night. The club full of young talent made a remarkable run through the MLS regular season to finish as the West's top seed and made it all the way to the Western Conference final.
Many of the plaudits for Dallas' successful season have rightfully gone to their head coach Oscar Pareja and his youthful revolution. The homegrown philosophy has worked wonders for them, so much so that in one match in September, they became the first club in league history to start five homegrown players in a match. They just happened to win that match 3-0 against a Columbus Crew side who are headed to the MLS Cup final.
As much of a great philosophy signing homegrown players and letting them play is, you still need to surround that young talent with other talent. Mauro Diaz's $364,000 base salary accounts for 10% of FC Dallas' $3.7 million team base salary which ranks as the second lowest in the league.
There's an argument to be made that Diaz is the perfect Designated Player. He's not a big-named player (at least he wasn't before the 2015 playoffs started), but he's a top talent. The 24-year-old is entering the prime of his career and had his most productive season in 2015, scoring eight goals and providing 10 assists in the regular season. The only aspect holding him back from being a perennial MVP candidate every year is his durability. He's suffered from injuries in each of his first three seasons in the league and it's held him back from reaching his top production levels.
Mauro Diaz is a game changer. Any time he touches the ball he has the ability to pick apart the opposing team's formation with one pass. He can also dribble past players at will to get into dangerous attacking positions. He's one of the few true No. 10 attacking midfielders left in MLS. When some of the best MLS Designated Players are being signed for $3-7 million a year, Diaz was signed for just over $300k. That investment in scouting has paid off tenfold.
In some ways Diaz has changed the idea of a Designated Player. Instead of going after that big fish, most MLS clubs are looking for that diamond in the rough that they can polish off and get the same production as if they'd shelled out the millions for a proven star. It's a hit-or-miss formula for success, but if you truly trust your scouting system it can be done.
Once Atlanta United begins zeroing in on possible Designated Players to build their initial roster around, don't freak out if they sign someone you've never heard of for DP money. You can probably count on one hand the number of people who knew about Mauro Diaz when FC Dallas signed him. Now he's a known commodity that every club in the league would play millions for.
If AUFC's grand academy plans come to fruition, it may not need to spend millions of dollars on high profile players. One or two wise investments in good, young Designated Players like Diaz could be just as effective, if not more so.