Since MLS introduced the Designated Player Rule in 2007, MLS teams have been able to invest money in big-time soccer players without having to worry about exceeding the salary cap (for some of them at least).
For some clubs a good-enough DP can be the difference between missing the playoffs and winning the MLS Cup. Though the New York Red Bulls have yet to claim the biggest prize in Major League Soccer, the best seasons the team has ever had have been built upon the production of their top DPs.
Here are the five best designated players in Red Bulls history:
#5 Tim Cahill
Cahill's tenure with the Red Bulls was a mixed bag. When he joined the team in 2012 there wasn't much of a chance to make an impact. But in 2013 he had a breakout season. His 11-goal contribution to the regular season led the team to its first-ever major trophy, the 2013 Supporters' Shield - and he won a slew of accolades for his work that year, including MLS Best XI and team MVP honors.
He exited the club after the 2014 season after a less impressive year with RBNY, but his best remains one of the most productive and significant seasons the Red Bulls have ever enjoyed.
#4 Sacha Kljestan
Weeks after the controversial firing of head coach Mike Petke by newly-hired sporting director Ali Curtis, the Red Bulls needed their first move to be a huge one - and it was. Sacha Kljestan, once a star in MLS and for the USMNT had been playing for Anderlecht for several years - but was ready to return to the USA. New head coach Jesse Marsch had played alongside Sacha Kljestan at Chivas USA and knew full-well his capabilities.
Kljestan proved his worth immediately. In 2015, he recorded eight goals and 14 assists in the regular season as the Red Bulls surged to their second Supporters' Shield. He tied Thierry Henry's all-time club records for single-season assists in the regular season (14) and all competitions (16) that year, but in 2016 he set a new standard for assist-making at RBNY. In his second year at the club, Kljestan recorded 20 assists (and six goals) in the regular season, becoming just the second player in MLS history to reach 20 regular-season assists in one year.
His efforts earned him MLS All-Star and MLS Best XI honors in 2016, and he finished third in MVP voting that season.
In 2017, he is perceived to have slowed down a little but still leads the team with six assists in 14 league appearances so far this season. And he is currently second on the club's all-time assists list.
#3 Juan Pablo Angel
Joining the Red Bulls as a seemingly worn-out striker from Aston Villa in 2007, JPA enjoyed some of the finest years of his storied career at Red Bull Arena. From 2007 to 2010 he recorded double-digit goals each season, and departed as the Red Bulls' all-time leading goalscorer. He scored 19 goals in his debut league campaign - the club's single-season regular-season scoring record until 2014. He helped lead the team to its lone MLS Cup Final appearance the following season.
While he failed to win the Red Bulls any major silverware during his tenure, he got them closer to the top of the mountain than any DP before or since.
#2 Bradley Wright-Phillips
Simply put, Bradley Wright-Phillips is the most prolific scorer in Red Bulls history. With 75 MLS goals (and counting) and 83 total goals (and counting), he outpaces JPA by 20 goals and Thierry Henry by 30 goals - and counting. The list of scoring records he either set or still holds for both the Red Bulls and MLS...well, it gets longer almost every time he scores and he's likely set records at this point that no one will notice were established until they are broken.
BWP joined the team late in 2013, just in time to rejoice in the team's Supporters'-Shield winning campaign, but established himself as one of the best strikers in MLS history just a few months later.
In 2014 BWP tied the MLS regular-season scoring record by scoring 27 goals, winning the Golden Boot and earning Best XI honors. The following year his production dropped to "just" 17 goals (still good for 4th most for a single RBNY season) as the team won their second Supporters' Shield. Then in 2016 he made MLS history again with 24 league goals - becoming the first player to ever log multiple seasons of 20+ goals.
Of course, the man had one of the finest players in the history of soccer alongside him when he started his epic MLS scoring spree...
#1 Thierry Henry
Undoubtedly the most high-profile player to ever don the Red Bulls uniform, Thierry Henry was also the best DP the team ever had.
Joining the Red Bulls in 2010 after a trophy-laden four-year spell with Barcelona, preceded by a legendary career at Arsenal, the 1998 World Cup winner quickly made the newly-opened Red Bull Arena the most dominant home-field advantage in Major League Soccer.
He established himself as a superstar, recording double-digit goals in each of his four full seasons with the team (with a tenure-high 15 coming in 2012 despite spending part of the year on loan to Arsenal).
When he retired from football at the end of the 2014 campaign, he had 52 goals and 49 assists across all competitions to go along with four MLS All-Star appearances and three MLS Best XI selections.
Henry didn't need to cap his career with a legendary contribution to RBNY; he was already an all-time soccer great before he landed in MLS. He had nothing to prove at the Red Bulls, he was a legend in his own life-time and by the end of 2011 he had a statue outside his beloved Arsenal's stadium to prove it. But he held himself and his teammates to the only standards he considered worth pursuing - the very best - and left RBNY having established raised the bar at the club for individual and collective success.
Henry was undoubtedly the best DP in team history, and in the eyes of many fans may even be the best Red Bull ever.