(Editorial) – Make a good Designated Player (DP) signing and you can revitalize your franchise and make a run at MLS Cup. Make a bad DP signing, and it can set the club back for a few years. Recruiting an international star to come to MLS and sign with your club is a big challenge many front offices in MLS face.
Several markets have a distinct advantage. When a rumor starts about a certain world class player wanting to come to MLS, Los Angeles and New York City are often mentioned. Occasionally, there’s Seattle because of their home crowd. Central and South American players tend to be interested in Houston, Dallas, or Orlando because of their climate, proximity to home, and Hispanic cultures.
Colorado Rapids DP Recruiting: Go After Swiss Super League Players
There are a number of markets who have historically had trouble making significant DP signings, even when they have a decent team and are willing to splash some cash. Columbus couldn’t get Mix Diskerud. It might be hard for the Chicago Fire to convince a big name to sign considering their recent history. Then there’s the Colorado Rapids.
Cold weather and some snow at the start and end of the season. The city is at altitude, something many Europeans don’t like and aren’t good at playing in. Plus they’ve rarely been willing to spend a lot on a player, having only signed two DPs ever prior to the 2015 season. Missing the playoffs three of the last four years doesn’t help either.
But there’s a league and region of Europe with good talent that mimics Denver, CO in many ways: the Swiss Super League. The Rapids might not be able to get the big English, Spanish, or German name. But if they do their research, they can find, recruit, and sign quality Swiss League talent for a reasonable price. They’ve done it with Shkëlzen Gashi. They can do it again.
LA and NYC will always have a leg up on the rest of the markets in the league because of their cachet and international reputation. But other cities have found ways to make their great players like and embrace their cities:
FC Dallas and Oscar Pareja have consistently been able to recruit Central and South American talent. A family atmosphere and the Hispanic cultural amenities of of Dallas have helped them keep Mauro Díaz and Fabian Castillo. Similarly, there’s a large Brazilian population in Central Florida. That has to help Kaká feel at home. Toronto has a Little Italy, that helped Giovinco feel at home. Montreal is a fairly European feel to it. That made adjusting to living in North America a little easier for Marco Di Vaio and Ignacio Piatti.
The Colorado Rapids can do the same thing with players who play or grew up in the Alps. The Alps stretch from the east end of France through Switzerland and Northern Italy, into Austria, Croatia, and end in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are a few clubs in Ligue 1 that border as well as several in Series A, including Juventus and both Inter and AC Milan.
The Swiss Super League is considered a second tier league in Europe (12th in EUFA Rankings), but has put teams into the knockout round of Champions League in recent years. Gashi won the Golden Boot last year. The league still has Marek Suchý, a Czech International and Breel-Donald Embolo. Both play for FC Basel, Gashi’s old club. The league has produced players like Xherdan Shaqiri, who is now with Stoke City.
The Swiss National team continues to improve as well. La Nati have made three World Cups in a row and made it to the knockout rounds in Brazil. They have already qualified for the 2016 Euros this summer. The national team has Gökhan Inler, a long standing veteran midfielder and several players in their prime playing in Germany. There may be no Giovinco or Robbie Keane in there, but there’s talent worth scouting.
The average Swiss Super League city is at an elevation of 1475 ft. The city with the highest average elevation is St. Gallen, at 2215 ft. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is at 5,164 ft. While Denver is much higher than Basel or Zurich, players training and playing 1000 ft above sea level do give them a good base to make that jump. Players who visit the Alps for recreation will be at altitudes in excess of 12,000 ft easily.
The Rapids front office can also market the outdoors appeal of Colorado. Maybe a scouted player likes hiking in the mountains or skiing. Salt Lake City is the only other market in MLS that even comes close to Denver in this aspect. A player with outdoors-man hobbies would be right at home in Colorado. For players with these interests, Denver would probably be on the top of their MLS cities list, not New York or LA.
The Swiss Super League provides underrated (and thus undervalued) international talent. These players train at altitude and thus are less averse to playing a mile high. Furthermore, Denver provides many of the off field activities that they probably enjoy living in and around the Alps. In this aspect, Denver would be a great place for these players to live in should they want to come play in MLS. the Colorado Rapids should use these variables to their advantage in pursuing future Designated Players.