You get a DP! You get a DP! You get a DP!
As the 2024 regular season nears and the winter transfer window shuts across most European countries, MLS teams are getting more deals over the line. And recently, three promising Designated Players have joined the ranks.
What do these three DPs bring on the field? And how will they impact their new teams? Let’s take a look.
This offseason is one of change for FC Dallas. On the field, we’re seeing a tactical shift as manager Nico Estévez opts for a 3-4-3 shape with Jesús Ferreira supporting a No. 9 rather than being the No. 9. In the transfer market, we just saw Dallas spend serious money to sign a big, physical – you guessed it – No. 9 to lead the line while Ferreira creates underneath.
It’s Petar Musa time, folks.
The 25-year-old Croatian international striker joins from Benfica, where he served as a super-sub for the Portuguese giants. He was absurdly productive off the bench during his last year-and-a-half, scoring 12 goals in just under 1,200 minutes and adding 0.82 non-penalty xG per 90 minutes, according to FBref. Those are downright absurd numbers.
Now, with no shortage of quality service from high-level teammates and the chance to take advantage of scrambling opposing defenses off the bench, it’s likely Musa’s Benfica scoring rate isn’t sustainable as he arrives in Dallas. Still, he was a double-digit scorer with Boavista before climbing to Benfica and had a great scoring record in the Czech Republic beforehand. There’s every reason to expect FC Dallas’ attack to improve with Musa serving as the tip of their shape.
Musa can help facilitate play with his back to goal, but doesn’t always embrace the more physical aspects of playing up top. Despite his big frame, he’s more cerebral than imposing. Really, Musa thrives when he can go to work in the box. He does a good job of hunting for space before latching onto the ball with his stronger right foot. He can slip in behind with a direct run or, if his team is in a more sustained sequence of possession in the final third, he can throw double-moves at opposing center backs to create space in tight quarters.
The Will Kuntz era has now really begun in Los Angeles.
After being handed the keys to the Galaxy’s front office earlier this offseason, Kuntz made his first big splash by acquiring Gabriel Pec as a Young Designated Player. Pec, a 22-year-old Brazilian who joins from Vasco da Gama in his home country’s top flight, looks like a quality addition as well.
In 2023, Pec contributed eight goals and four assists in 2,600 minutes while mostly playing as an inverted right winger in the Brasileirão. Looking at the underlying numbers, according to FBref, he finished in the 91st percentile in non-penalty xG per 90 minutes among his positional peers in Brazil. Pec can play provider, too. Though his chance-creation numbers aren’t quite as impressive, he adds useful service from the wing, playing crosses and cutbacks with his left foot that have good speed and texture.
When you watch Pec’s tape, it’s clear that he likes to dribble. The young winger takes a more direct approach, rather than dancing around opposing fullbacks with quick, light touches.
Pec has plenty of skill (there’s no doubting that), but there’s a forceful bent to his game that shows up in his one-v-one moments and his goal-scoring. A host of Pec’s best shooting opportunities come after he’s created space for himself with clever off-ball movement, rather than after dribbling into the box with the ball at his feet. He almost adopts some striker-like tendencies in the final third, moving inside to lurk near the six-yard box when the ball is on the opposite side.
There’s surely some stylistic bleed from Vasco da Gama’s transition-focused tactical approach that has impacted Pec’s playing style. Regardless, he was an effective, versatile attacker in a good league last season. Riqui Puig and LA need more of those kinds of players.
The Seattle Sounders have themselves a new star: 22-year-old winger Pedro de la Vega recently arrived in the Pacific Northwest as a Young DP, previously starring at Lanús in the Argentine top flight.
With Nico Lodeiro leaving for Orlando in free agency and de la Vega coming in, it’s tempting to assume the latter is simply a like-for-like replacement for the Uruguayan club legend. But that’s not the case. De la Vega is a winger, one who spent most of his time out on the left side for Lanús before cutting in on his right foot. The Argentine really relies on his right – he’s not quite at the Carlos Vela level of one-foot dominance, but he’s not that far off, either.
Undoubtedly, de la Vega’s best skill is his one-v-one dribbling. The young attacker finished in the 75th percentile in successful take-ons among his positional peers in Argentina last year, averaging 2.76 per 90. He also finished in the 87th percentile in take-ons that led to goal-creation actions later in the sequence.
De la Vega loves to knife forward in the attack, using vertical movement on and off the ball to break the opposing backline. Now, his final action is still a work in progress. He had nine goal contributions last year (six goals, three assists) in 2,000 league minutes and his expected numbers don’t jump off the screen. Still, even if it takes some time for de la Vega to settle into life in a new country, Seattle have a great track record of development. With plenty of quality around him, opposing defenses won’t have the luxury of devoting all of their attention to stopping de la Vega on the wing.
The Sounders should help de la Vega improve – and vice versa – in 2024.