MLS Designated Players: Which teams are getting the most bang for their buck in 2021?


When the Designated Player rule (aka the “David Beckham Rule”) was introduced in 2007, it was designed to attract a superstar to MLS by offering lucrative salaries outside of teams’ modest budgets. And while some DPs have thrived in MLS — Beckham, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic — there have also been some forgettable stints (Denilson in Dallas anyone?).

MLS’s roster rules have since evolved and while many players earn as much as — or in some cases, more than — DPs, there still a higher sense of expectation when a player is given the tag. All teams have at least one DP and some have up to four, depending on the type of designation, but are teams getting the most value out their DPs? Are they contributing to their team’s success, or are they overburdening the team with low contributions for high pay?

With just a couple of weeks remaining in an action-packed 2021 regular season, we’ve decided to find out. ESPN reporter/researcher Dan Hajducky takes the East and ESPN editor Danny Guerra looks at the West.

Methodology: Is there a foolproof way to measure any player’s performance? Probably not, but we’ll use a couple of basic parameters to judge the DP field.

First of all, they’re expensive, they’re limited in number on each roster, and they’re overwhelmingly playmakers or goal/assist creators. We took the difference between all of a team DP’s actual contributions (total goals and assists) and their expected contributions, using TruMedia’s MLS statistics as of Oct. 25. That score is then divided by the DPs’ total salary, according to the latest figures from the MLS Players Association released earlier in October.

For example, Atlanta’s Josef Martinez has 10 goals and 1 assist this (injury-affected) season. His expected assists are 1.13, and his expected goals are 8.54, totaling 9.68 expected contributions. As such, 11 – 9.68 = 1.32. Dividing his reported salary of $3.9 million by the difference of 1.33, gives Martinez a “Bang for Buck Grade” (we’ll call it BBG) of about $2.9 million.

Compare that to Columbus’ Lucas Zelarayan (3.22 contribution difference, $1.12 million), who gives you a BBG of $341,614.

Both MLS Cup winners, both playmakers, both DPs. Is one worth more than the other?

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Bang for Buck Grade: D- (14th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Luciano Acosta, 26: $2,222,854 (goals: 7, assists: 9; xG + xA: 12.72; difference: 3.28)

  • FW Brenner, 21: $1,760,418 (goals: 7, assists: 2; xG + xA: 11.06; difference: -2.06)

  • FW Jurgen Locadia, 27: $2,812,500 (loan ended June 30) (goals: 1, assists: 0; xG + xA: 2.8; difference: -1.8)

FC Cincinnati have eked out a calamitous 33 goals, tied for second-to-last across MLS in 2021. If not for Luciano Acosta’s 7 goals and 9 assists, it would be worse.

Of MLS players who’ve accounted for at least 15 goals + assists, only two players have been involved in a higher percentage of team goals than Acosta’s 48.5%: Columbus’ Youness Mokhtar with 48.9% and Inter Miami’s Gonzalo Higuain, with more than 60%.

Brenner (7 goals, 2 assists) has made an impact, but Dutch winger Jurgen Locadia — whose loan from Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion concluded in June after Cincinnati declined purchase — initialed the Ohio side’s plummet. In 9 games stateside, Locadia managed one goal, while costing $2.8 million. – Dan Hajducky

Bang for Buck Grade: D (13th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • FW Robert Beric, 29: $2,703,164 (goals: 8, assists: 3; xG + xA: 14.28; difference: -3.28)

  • MF Gaston Gimenez, 29: $2,358,667 (goals: 2, assists: 1; xG + xA: 4.54; difference: -1.54)

  • FW Ignacio Aliseda, 21: $821,501 (goals: 4, assists: 1; xG + xA: 5.34; difference: -0.34)

In short: Oof. As adept as Beric was at finding the net in 2020 (12 goals, T-2nd in MLS), it looked like all but a flash in the pan before this last week.

Of all MLS players with at least 10 expected goals, no one has fewer than Beric’s eight tallies. Of players with 20 shots on target, Beric’s 10.4% conversion percentage is 39th of 46 qualified players. He’s a long way from helping Saint-Etienne qualify for the Europa League in May of 2019.

Chicago isn’t getting much from Ignacio Aliseda or Gaston Gimenez either, who’ve notched 6 goals and 2 assists in 3,294 combined minutes. They’ll miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.— DH

Bang for Buck Grade: D+ (12th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Maxi Moralez, 34: $3,285,000 (goals: 3, assists: 9; xG + xA: 14.9; difference: -2.9)

  • MF Talles Magno, 19: $1,198,000 (goals: 1, assists: 0; xG + xA: 2.6; difference: -2.6)

  • MF Jesus Medina, 24: $1,170,833 (goals: 9, assists: 4; xG + xA: 13.5; difference: -0.5)

Aside from the Galaxy, no club in league history boasts a more decorated list of DPs. David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo combined for four UEFA Champions League titles. Lampard and Pirlo were disappointments in the U.S., but Villa scored 80 league goals for the Bronx Blues and left a Jucar Canyon-sized chasm when he absconded to Japan after the 2018 season.

Since? NYCFC has, uh, struggled with DP output. In 2021, all three NYCFC DPs have a negative raw-to-expected tally, vaulting them to the bottom of the Eastern Conference in terms of ROI.

Talles Magno, the Brazilian teenager, seems bound for stardom, which eases the pain of assist maestro Maxi Moralez riding into the sunset. He’s out of contract at year’s end. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: C- (11th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Alejandro Pozuelo, 29: $4,693,000 (goals: 1, assists: 4; xG + xA: 6.69; difference: -1.69)

  • FW Jozy Altidore, 31: $3,602,250 (goals: 3, assists: 0; xG + xA: 6.69; difference: -0.35)

  • FW Yeferson Soteldo, 23: $1,965,000 (goals: 3, assists: 10; xG + xA: 10.54; difference: 2.46)

In doling out our MLS midseason awards, I wrote “Toronto’s struggles — offensively, defensively, tactically, you name it — have soured a team that has long been appointment viewing.” They’ve since pulled off some shock results, upending Nashville and drawing Colorado, not to mention drawing a Montreal vying for a playoff spot on Saturday, but they’ve still conceded 60 goals, second-most in MLS. This is Toronto, who won a domestic treble in 2017.

Two of their DPs, Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore, lost months to injuries, but newcomer Yeferson Soteldo has been electric, T-7th in MLS with 10 assists, and he’s got a bright future. However, it isn’t good when center-back Omar Gonzalez is tied for second on the team in goals… the same Toronto who was runner-up or winner of three of the last five MLS Cups. Up North, they’re begging for a clean slate. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: C (10th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Jamiro Monteiro, 27: $1,476,250 (goals: 2, assists: 6; xG + xA: 7.72; difference: 0.28)

This feels borderline unfair. Philadelphia has only had one DP, the former Metz midfielder Monteiro, over the last two seasons. Monteiro’s cost-benefit this season has been darn near even at 0.28. Maybe the Union have got it right? Maybe there’s much ado about nothing for DPs?

The 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners have finished third or better in the East each of the last two seasons and they’re only paying two players more than $950K in 2021. Six players have at least 3 goals, four have at least 3 assists.

Despite being in the bottom seven in MLS in touches, passing attempts, passing percentage and passing percentage in the attacking third, they defend like bulls (top-6 in tackling and duel percentage) and get shots on goal. They also have one of the league’s all-time best goalkeepers, Andre Blake (fewest goals allowed, second-most goals prevented, min. 1,500 minutes) stonewalling anything that gets through. If it ain’t broke, kids, etc. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: B- (9th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • FW Edison Flores, 26: $1,733,000 (goals: 2, assists: 5; xG + xA: 4.86; difference: 2.14)

  • FW Paul Arriola, 26: $1,050,000 (goals: 5, assists: 3; xG + xA: 8; difference: 0.0)

D.C. have relied heavily on MLS top goalscorer Ola Kamara‘s 17 tallies as they cling to playoff hopes. But despite getting solid ROIs, the team’s DPs missed chunks of 2021.

Arriola (with the rare total/expected equilbrium) was loaned to Championship outfit Swansea City and managed only two games before coming home injured, while Flores missed almost three months with hamstring injuries. There’s no telling where D.C. might be were they healthy and present. Even so, Arriola and Flores combined for 3 goals and 3 assists over a four-game stretch from late September to early October. D.C. could be dangerous if they sneak into the playoffs and their stars return. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: B (8th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Victor Wanyama, 29: $3,091,667 (goals: 2, assists: 1; xG + xA: 3.55; difference: -0.55)

  • DF Aljaz Struna, 31: $1,210,000 (goals: 1, assists: 0; xG + xA: 0.57; difference: 0.43)

  • MF Djordje Mihailovic, 22: $651,875 (goals: 4, assists: 15; xG + xA: 13.85; difference: 5.15)

In a Dec. 2020 news conference, then-Montreal head coach Thierry Henry (who knows a thing or two about that DP life) hailed bringing Djordje Mihailovic from Chicago “a no-brainer.” Henry continued, “Now he has to come in and perform.” Uh, no problem. All Mihailovic has done this season is produce 15 assists in league play, second-most behind New England revelation Carles Gil, and matching his career total over his previous four seasons.

Former Tottenham Hotspur mainstay Victor Wanyama is T-7th in the league among midfielders with 2,200 minutes played in ball recoveries and Struna, among defenders with 1,200 logged minutes, is third in percentage of aerials won. Montreal know how to allocate. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: B (7th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • FW Gonzalo Higuain, 33: $5,793,750 (goals: 11, assists: 9; xG + xA: 13.72; difference: 4.28)

  • MF Rodolfo Pizarro, 27: $3,350,000 (goals: 3, assists: 6; xG + xA: 3.98; difference: 5.08)

  • MF Blaise Matuidi, 34: $1,500,000 (goals: 0, assists: 1; xG + xA: 1.43; difference: -0.43)

Nothing to see here! Even the late Leslie Nielsen couldn’t divert attention from Inter Miami’s grievous financial implosion: a record fine of $2 million — which my colleague Jeff Carlisle termed “the stiffest in MLS history” — over budgetary and roster regulations. (There was also a $2.27 million reduction in allocation money over 2022 and 2023.)

But once the smoke cleared, and despite a disastrous 2021, Miami has still gotten a fruitful harvest from its DPs. Among midfielders with 1,300 touches, Matuidi is 7th in passing percentage (89%) and Higuain, as mentioned, has had a hand in over 60% of Inter Miami’s goals. In short, they just spend and spend; Miami’s DPs ($10,643,750) account for almost 61% of their $17.55 million salary, fourth-highest in MLS. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: B (6th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF/FW Luiz Araujo, 25: $3,941,667 (goals: 2, assists: 3; xG + xA: 4.59; difference: 0.31)

  • FW Josef Martinez, 27: $3,891,667 (goals: 10, assists: 1; xG + xA: 9.68; difference: 1.32)

  • MF Ezequiel Barco, 22: $2,358,333 (goals: 7, assists: 7; xG + xA: 7.12; difference: 6.88)

  • DF Alan Franco, 24: $505,500 (goals: 0, assists: 4; xG + xA: 1.39; difference: 2.61)

Of Atlanta’s four DPs, all have yielded more goals and assists than their expected metrics… and Luiz Araujo’s only been in MLS since August. Alan Franco, the rare defender who is allocated under the league’s young DP initiative, is sixth in percentage of aerials won among defenders with 1,500 minutes played (68.9%) three spots behind Walker Zimmerman and two from Atlanta teammate Miles Robinson.

Josef Martinez, the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year frontrunner, has scored 8 goals in his last 11 MLS matches — of which Atlanta has only lost three. Ezequiel Barco, who played for Argentina in the Olympics this summer, is still just 22 and is third among Eastern Conference DPs in raw output above expected.

Despite losing cornerstone Miguel Almiron to Newcastle United in 2019 — MLS’ all-time most expensive export — and Martinez for all of 2020 to an ACL tear, Atlanta has rebounded largely on the backs of DPs who perpetually reiterate their value. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: A- (5th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • FW Patryk Klimala, 22: $1,135,000 (goals: 8, assists: 6; xG + xA: 12.53; difference: -1.47)

  • MF Dru Yearwood, 21: $519,750 (goals: 1, assists: 2; xG + xA: 1.75; difference: -1.25)

Dru Yearwood bet on himself; the 21-year-old left Premier League-bound Brentford after barely getting a minute. In the U.S., he’s a ball-hawk, one of six MLS midfielders aged 21 or younger with at least 100 ball recoveries (min. 1,200 minutes played) this season. Former Celtic man Patryk Klimala has also put together quite a debut campaign; of MLS players 23 or younger, only NYCFC’s Valentin Castellanos and Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi, with 15 and 13 respectively, and have scored more often.

With six points separating the 6th-place Red Bulls from Philadelphia in 2nd, and New York only conceding 31 times all season, mayhem seems poised to ensue down the stretch. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: A- (4th of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Lucas Zelarayan, 28: $1,985,000 (goals: 8, assists: 5; xG + xA: 9.78; difference: 3.22)

  • MF Darlington Nagbe, 30: $1,710,000 (goals: 2, assists: 6; xG + xA: 2.43; difference: 5.57)

  • FW Gyasi Zardes, 29: $1,400,000 (goals: 9, assists: 0; xG + xA: 2.43; difference: 1.84)

Before 2019’s 10th-place denouement, the defending MLS Cup champions had never finished worse than 8th in the Eastern Conference. At present, they’re simultaneously five points from a playoff spot and staring down the barrel of a second 10th-or-lower finish in three years.

Don’t look at Columbus’ DPs though; Darlington Nagbe (who leads the MLS in pass completion percentage, min. 1,200 touches, at a ludicrous 94.5%), MLS Cup MVP Lucas Zelarayan and USMNT striker Gyasi Zardes (who’ll miss the rest of the regular season with a knee injury) are all well worth the cash spent.

A big factor? More than 77% of Columbus’ results are either ties or decided by a goal. Nonetheless, change may be imminent for the aging Crew; only one player with 1,500+ minutes this year (Derrick Etienne, 24) is younger than 29. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: A (3rd of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Carles Gil, 28: $3,045,833 (goals: 4, assists: 18; xG + xA: 2.43; difference: 5.09)

  • FW Gustavo Bou, 31: $2,120,000 (goals: 15, assists: 9; xG + xA: 2.43; difference: 6.89)

  • FW Adam Buksa, 24: $1,106,250 (goals: 16, assists: 3; xG + xA: 19.51; difference: -0.51)

Before last week’s matches, the Revs would have been in the middle of the pack in this ranking. Now they’re here with league assist-leader (18) Carles Gil and all-around playmaker Gustavo Bou two of the best performing DPs above expected in the league. Adam Buksa, 16 goals and all, was actually (however improbable) holding them back.

As luminous as Buksa has been his expected goal tally is two and a half above his raw total. Hard to imagine he, or any Rev for that matter, will mind. They clinched a spot in the playoffs a month ago and haven’t been out of 1st place in the Eastern Conference since Week 5. itting pretty with 21 wins and having secured the Supporters’ Shield over the weekend, they’re poised to break the MLS record for season wins (22). Of course they’d top the league here, as well. Their DPs combining for 35 of their 64 goals is a proverbial sundae cherry. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: A (2nd of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • FW Nani, 34: $2,486,250 (goals: 10, assists: 7; xG + xA: 10.95; difference: 6.05)

  • MF Mauricio Pereyra, 31: $1,848,000 (goals: 1, assists: 10; xG + xA: 7.82; difference: 3.18)

Orlando knows where to spend. Nani and Pereyra are one of two Eastern Conference duos with 7+ assists and passing completion percentages of 79% or higher. (The other? New England’s Arnor Traustason and Carles Gil.)

As hot as Orlando City started, only losing one of their first ten, September brought a cold front, including a four-game losing streak. The culprit? Nani’s gone cold, with only one goal in league play since Aug. 7 and assistless since Sept. 4. Four points separate Orlando from their fourth-place spot and eighth-place Montreal. If they want to contend, the once-nimble Manchester United and Portugal star will need to take flight. — DH

Bang for Buck Grade: A+ (1st of 14 in Eastern Conference)

  • MF Hany Mukhtar, 26: $1,505,000 (goals: 14, assists: 9; xG + xA: 15.44; difference: 7.56)

  • FW Jhonder Cadiz, 25: $1,023,800 (goals: 2, assists: 2; xG + xA: 5.24; difference: -1.24)

  • MF Ake Loba, 23: $1,318,475 (goals: 0, assists: 1; xG + xA: 0.32; difference: 0.68)

  • MF Randall Leal, 24: $477,750 (downgraded out of DP spot on April 21) (goals: 6, assists: 7; xG + xA: 8.42; difference: 4.58)

Take a bow, Nashville. No Eastern Conference squad gets more for their spending than the second-year MLS side. Hany Mukhtar boasts the highest raw goal and assists total among Eastern Conference DPs and, along with Randall Leal — who started the 2021 season as a DP but was downgraded in April — comprises the only pair of teammates in the conference, and one of three in MLS, with 6 goals and 6 assists each.

Nashville has such an embarrassment of offensive riches that two of their DPs are finding a hard time to get on pitch. Jhonder Cadiz has logged 111 minutes since the start of September. As general manager Mike Jacobs said in September: “[Who’s] hotter than C.J. Sapong right now?” And club-record signing Ake Loba, who has only played more than 29 minutes once since Aug. 8, has been dreadful.

Oh, and goalkeeper Joe Willis is tied for the MLS lead in clean sheets (13) while being second in save percentage (76.5%) min. 1,300 minutes played. That’s a Grand Ole fourth-best league goal differential. – DH

Western Conference

Bang for Buck Grade: D (13th of 13 in Western Conference)

A bit tough to rate one DP with a handful of appearances, as Younes Namli returned to action in September due to ankle surgery in June. However, the Rapids have made up for his absence and find themselves in among the top teams the Western Conference.

In Namli’s absence, Colorado’s attack has thrived with Michael Barrios, who leads the team in eight goals, and Jack Price, third in assists (12) in the league. And they’re getting great production out a slew of players such as homegrown standout Cole Bassett, USMNT regular Kellyn Acosta, and Diego Rubio.

Namli began to appear regularly again back in action and has finally gotten on the scoreboard. The club must decide whether to keep him permanently once his two-year loan from Russian club Krasnodar ends this season. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: D- (12th of 13 in Western Conference)

Their grade may seem unfair considering their status as one of MLS’ hottest sides, but Ryan Gauld didn’t join until midseason and Lucas Cavallini has missed a lot of time. That said, Gauld’s arrival has more than made it up for Cavallini’s inconsistency as the Caps have only lost two league matches (to rivals Portland and Seattle) since his arrival in August. Gauld’s connection with Brian White (11 goals) and Christian Dajome (10 goals) has Vancouver in the playoff hunt after a summer that saw Marc Dos Santos fired as coach.

Lucas Cavallini’s struggles have come while on spending time away from the club on international duty for Canada and suffering the effects of a knee injury in August. His last goal came in July. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: D (11th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Javier Hernandez, 32: $6,000,000 (goals: 14, assists 3; xG + xA: 15.16; difference: 1.84)

  • MF Jonathan dos Santos, 31: $2,000,000 (goals: 1, assists 0; xG + xA: 2.8; difference: -1.8)

  • FW Kevin Cabral, 21: $1,440,000 (goals: 5, assists 1; xG + xA: 10.22; difference: -4.22)

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s outsized salary and the initial struggles of first-year winger Kevin Cabral pulled the Galaxy’s DP numbers toward the bottom of the conference. But considering the rebound year that Chicharito (the second-highest player in the league) has had, it could be worth if the team can reach the postseason. With 14 goals, Mexico‘s highest-goal scorer is contention for the MLS Golden Boot, despite missing nearly two months with a calf injury. Overall, he’s adapted well with under first-year manager Greg Vanney.

Jonathan dos Santos is a steady veteran presence, surpassing 100 games, and makes the most of his passes (90% rate). But the club captain’s durability and versatility has waned, having gone the full 90 minutes in only six matches.

Cabral got the DP tag amid a influx of young talent imported into Carson. While Cabral has five goals and can find space along the wing, he needs to be better at finishing his chances. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: D (10th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Sebastian Driussi, 25: $2,680,000 (goals: 4, assists 5; xG + xA: 6.62; difference: 2.38)

  • FW Cecilio Dominguez, 26: $1,700,000 (goals: 7, assists 4; xG + xA: 12.15; difference: -1.15)

  • MF Tomas Pochettino, 25: $642,000 (goals: 2, assists 2; xG + xA: 8.07; difference: -4.07)

There was preseason talk about the expansion side fighting for a playoff spot, but a lack of scoring this season (31 goals overall, last in the West) dashed those hopes. Cecilio Dominguez leads the teams in goals, which isn’t really positive as he wasn’t tabbed to be Austin’s main scoring threat, and four of his seven tallies came in two games. Austin bolstered its attacking options with the midseason additions of Moussa Djitte and third DP Sebastian Driussi.

Now the club’s highest-paid player, Driussi has fit well at Austin since joining from Zenit. With nine goal contributions, he created as many chances (29) in half the games as the other two DPs. Tomas Pochettino has been the most disappointing of Austin’s trio, as he hasn’t stood out defensively and netting just two goals on 62 shots taken. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: D (9th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Carlos Vela, 32: $6,300,000 (goals: 5, assists 5; xG + xA: 10.87; difference: -0.87)

  • FW Brian Rodriguez, 21: $1,030,000 (goals: 2, assists 1; xG + xA: 4.11; difference: -1.11)

  • FW Diego Rossi, 23: $1,100,000 (on loan as of Sept. 1) (goals: 6, assists 1; xG + xA: 10.22; difference: -3.22)

If you were to look at just this year, it’s hard to justify Carlos Vela’s league-high contract with what he has produced on the field. The 2019 league MVP has battled injuries all season, and has just five goals in 17 matches. His deal ends at season’s end and he’s hinted at leaving MLS. A club legend regardless, it could be worth a fresh start for all.

Though on loan with Turkish side Fenerbahçe, it’s safe to say Diego Rossi’s days at LAFC are over, which opens an DP spot going into the offseason. Like Vela, he struggled for most of the season and despite a lower expected goal level, did nicely with six goals in 17 games before heading to Istanbul.

Rodriguez’s two goals this season came in one match against the Galaxy (although one was a flash of brilliance), but El Rayito really needs to step up. His spring loan to Spanish club Almeria was a bust, and his Copa America duties with Uruguay came at an awkward time. He continues to show glimpses of his potential, but patience for him to break out — and earned that coveted permanent move to Europe — seems to be wearing thin.

But kudos to the club for midseason pickup Cristian Arango after Rossi’s exit — his 12 goals in 14 games are why LAFC have postseason hopes. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: C (8th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Franco Jara, 32: $2,990,000 (goals: 6, assists 2; xG + xA: 7.84; difference: -1.59)

  • MF Bryan Acosta, 27: $700,000 (goals: 0, assists 2; xG + xA: 3.15; difference: -1.15)

The accolades lavished upon FC Dallas’ academy for developing young talent hasn’t really translated to on-field success, and led to Luchi Gonzalez’s ouster as manager last month. So it is surprising to see Dallas with a passable grade, although their DP budget (along with the output) is relatively modest.

Franco Jara, with eight starts this season, was relegated to the bench just as Ricardo Pepi emerged as FCD’s (and maybe the U.S. men’s) main scoring threat. He’s been back in the XI since the rumors of a Pepi transfer rumors started to heat up a couple weeks ago, but its been another lackluster campaign someone whose salary that hovers around league’s top 10. Defensive midfielder Acosta remains a steady presence, whether starting or coming of the bench. He seems a likely candidate to be downgraded and free up a DP spot.

Out of the playoff picture, no permanent coach, and the Pepi train seems set to chug along to Europe. Could FCD re-boot their DP contingent, or maybe just hope another homegrown prospect emerges? — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: C- (7th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Darwin Quintero, 33: $1,270,000 (goals: 3, assists 2; xG + xA: 8.8; difference: -3.8)

  • DF Teenage Hadebe, 26: $1,120,000 (goals: 0, assists 1; xG + xA: 0.75; difference: 0.25)

Technically Houston’s value is higher than next-up Minnesota, but this one is an eye-test decision (one can be allowed to do that with these type of rankings).

Darwin Quintero’s situation has been odd in Houston, a squad which has relied more from their offseason non-DP (but well-compensated) additions like Fafa Picault and Maxi Urriti. With just 18 appearances for Tab Ramos’ side, the 33-year-old had two different month-long stretches where didn’t feature or dress. After team ownership switched hands in June, the Dynamo went big and signed a … defender as its second DP. Not a move often seen, but Teenage Hadebe has paired well with center-back Tim Parker since joining in July, ranking above the league’s average percentage in aerials won and tackles.

Out of the postseason picture — a demoralizing 16-game winless streak can do that — and in contention to finish worst in the West, it would bode well to move on Quintero and build on some talented pieces in place. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: B (6th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Adrien Hunou, 27: $2,580,000 (goals: 6, assists 1; xG + xA: 10.27; difference: -3.27)

  • MF Emanuel Reynoso, 25: $996,000 (goals: 4, assists 10; xG + xA: 13.94; difference: 0.06)

  • MF Jan Gregus, 30: $883,500 (goals: 0, assists 1; xG + xA: 1.3; difference: -0.3)

Minnesota’s fortunes ride on an attacking symphony that includes Adrien Hunou and Emmanuel Reynosa and non-DP stars Robin Lod (who leads the team in goals with eight) and Franco Fragapane.

Reynosa is the key creator for the Loons, and leads the team in assists (10) while adding four goals of his own. His form of late is why Minnesota recovered for a horrid start of the season to now be above the playoff line. He’s also possibly the best-value DP for what he does on and off the ball.

Hunou joined Minnesota a month into the season due to visa issues, but has struck a chord playing alongside fellow newcomer Fragapane. Of Hunou’s six goals so far this season, Fragapane has an assist in four of them.

Jan Gregus has seen his minutes diminished due to a deep midfield and international duty with Finland, appearing in less than half of Minnesota’s games this season. A good roster player, but perhaps without the DP tag. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: B+ (5th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Cristian Espinoza, 26: $1,300,000 (goals: 3, assists 8; xG + xA: 9.83; difference: 1.17)

  • FW Javier Lopez, 27: $860,000 (goals: 12, assists 4; xG + xA: 10.56; difference: 5.44)

Javier “Chofis” Lopez’s connection to Quakes coach Matias Almeyda goes back to their days at Chivas, and it initially seemed he brought his consistency issues from Guadalajara. But Lopez has put together a solid debut campaign. He leads the team with 12 goals in 28 starts, scoring in six straight games to garner MLS Player of the Month honors for September.

Cristian Espinoza remains a solid creator and winger for the Quakes with seven assists, and ranks in the 90th percentile in the league for expected assists. He is third among open-field players for most minutes on the team.

And despite the decent value on their DPs, the season has been maddingly disappointing for the Quakes. They made an ambitious August trade for striker Jeremy Ebobisse, yet it didn’t really come together this season. A front office didn’t help and as a result, maybe add Almeyda to the list of coaches who may be on the move. But for good measure, Wondo forever. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: B (4th of 13 in Western Conference)

  • MF Albert Rusnak, 26: $2,400,000 (goals: 7, assists 11; xG + xA: 12.49; difference: 5.51)

He is the only DP for the Utah side, but Albert Rusnak gets great value and continues to earn his keep on what has been a surprise team in the West.

A starter in all 30 matches he has played for, club captain Rusnak leads the team in minutes and reached double-digit assists for the second time in a season. And while the Slovakia international was curiously left of his nation’s squad for Euro 2020, RSL benefited from him staying stateside.

Like their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Colorado, RSL have mainly benefited from their non-DPs, notably ex-USMNTer Rubio Rubin and a resurgent Damir Kreilach. The latter, whose having a career year with 14 goals and was an All-Star selection, can thank Aaron Herrera for supplying five those scoring chances.

Despite seeing Freddy Juarez’s suprising midseason departure as manager (to become a Seattle assistant), RSL are hovering around the last playoff spot. The team is in the process of being sold, so it is unclear where a team will chase for another DP signing in the offseason. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade B+ (3rd of 13 in Western Conference)

  • FW Alan Pulido, 30: $2,200,000 (goals: 8, assists 3; xG + xA: 8.66; difference: 2.34)

  • FW Johnny Russell, 31: $1,600,000 (goals: 12, assists 7; xG + xA: 13.05; difference: 2.63)

  • MF Gadi Kinda, 27: $908,000 (goals: 5, assists 4; xG + xA: 9.5; difference: 0.5)

Team record signing Alan Pulido’s number (8 goals, 3 assists) are above his expected combined contribution, but he’s missed a lot of time (often to injury). SKC are cruising toward a playoff spot, but recent knee injury is keeping Pulido out when it matters most.

Ultimately, the play of Johnny Russell and MVP candidate Daniel Salloi (23 goal contributions) have carried SKC this campaign. It’s been a good October for club captain Russell, signed a new extension earlier this month and now has scored in seven straight games.

Kinda is a good offensive threat from the midfield and has been a key cog for side that’s knocking on the door for the top spot in the West. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: A- (2nd of 13 in Western Conference)

  • MF Sebastian Blanco, 33: $2,300,000 (goals: 4, assists 6; xG + xA: 7.84; difference: 2.16)

  • FW Yimmi Chara, 30: $1,400,000 (goals: 6, assists 5; xG + xA: 8.29; difference: 1.71)

  • FW Jaroslaw Niezgoda, 26: $908,800 (goals: 2, assists 0; xG + xA: 0.75; difference: 1.25)

Both Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Sebastian Blanco missed significant time this season as they both recovered from ACL surgery, but the Timbers continue to get great value from their three DPs. In fact, Portland are only behind rivals Seattle in DP value among the Western clubs, due in part to the standout season of Yimmi Chara. The Colombia international is an engine, and is among the team’s leaders in minutes played and second behind brother Diego in passing success (86%). Six goals and five assists don’t hurt either.

Blanco has slowly found his stride and despite the lost time, he is back to being an active presence in the Timbers’ attack, averaging nearly 65 touches per 90 minutes. Niezgoda is still working his way back to fitness, with just one start in nine appearances.

A dip in overall play is worrisome (three straight losses), but bet on a veteran side to pull through. — DG

Bang for Buck Grade: A (1st of 13 in Western Conference)

  • MF Nicolas Lodeiro, 32: $2,700,000 (goals: 0, assists 1; xG + xA: 1.18; difference: -0.18)

  • FW Raul Ruidiaz, 30: $2,100,000 (goals: 16, assists 1; xG + xA: 17.89; difference: -0.89)

  • MF Joao Paulo, 30: $1,000,000 (goals: 3, assists 11; xG + xA: 7.58; difference: 6.42)

The team to beat in the West? Probably, and it is unsurprisingly getting the most out of their three standout DPs, with Raul Ruidiaz and Joao Paulo leading the charge.

Ruidiaz is having an MVP-candidate season, earned an MLS All-Star bid, and is in the Golden Boot chase. Fellow All-Star Joao Paulo (six Sounders were named to this year’s squad) has controlled Seattle’s midfield with both his defensive and playmaking abilities. And of all the DPs out West, no one has a higher difference between his goals/assists and expected contributions.

This is also as deep a squad as you can find in MLS whose non-DP talent is as important as any out there. Even the ACL injury to Jordan Morris while on loan at Swansea (expected to return to soon) didn’t sway a club with the likes of the Roldan brothers, Will Bruin and midseason addition Nicolas Benezet from Colorado.

Seattle’s depth has allievated the pressure of not having Lodeiro, who has been sidelined most of the season with a knee injury that later required arthroscopic surgery in September. Should Seattle make another deep playoff run in November, he could be back in time. — DG

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