MATCHDAY: Union Head to Chicago As Player Paychecks Take Center Stage (1:30 p.m. NBCSN)

MATCHDAY: Union Head to Chicago As Player Paychecks Take Center Stage (1:30 p.m. NBCSN)

Much of the fan discussion in pro sports revolves around money. Who makes the most money, who is underpaid, who is overpaid, who has a terrible contract. On WIP the other night, an entire Phillies discussion revolved around how many Phillies players were "outperforming their contract" (just one: Kyle Kendrick) and how many were "overpaid" (the rest).

In most of the "big" pro sports, teams often don't brag about how much money they're paying players. And players often don't like to boast about how much they're making. The general consensus among fans is that athletes make too much money for "playing a game" and owners take too much of the fans' money.

In Major League Soccer, things are a little bit different. Each year, the Major League Soccer Players Union compiles and releases an easy-to-read list showing exactly how much money every single player in the league makes. It causes soccer writers to go crazy and soccer fans to over-analyze their favorite team's roster. It even causes league owners to (rightfully) fret about the one-sided nature of the document.

That's the Portland Timbers owner, who understands that MLS player salaries are more complex than a 6-column Excel spreadsheet. But, they do create an interesting conversation piece.

The players union first released the list years ago as a way to point out to fans just how little they were being paid, while you, the fan, was forking over cash for tickets, beers and replica jerseys. It was especially prominent leading up to the near-work stoppage that threatened the Union's inaugural season in 2010. It was an interesting, and arguably effective, marketing strategy. One of the allures of MLS is how the players relate to the fans, and there's no doubt that it's easier to relate to a budding star defender making $105,000 (Sheanon Williams) than a crappy middle reliever making $850,000 (Chad Durbin).

But the league has grown in recent years to the point where there are now more 6- and 7-figure salaries on the list than guys who make less than your average grocery bagger.

Last year's Union salary list was interesting because it seemed to drive just how hard fans would boo Freddy Adu . This year, it's most interesting because the team's highest paid players are nowhere near its most influental.

In one way, it's great to see new faces step up and "outperform their contracts." But if you're hoping to get the most out of a limited budget, well, here's the team's five highest-paid players.

  • KLEBERSON: $495,000 (29 total minutes played)
  • CARLOS VALDES: $321,000 (0 minutes played, loaned to Sante Fe in Colombia)
  • BAKARY SOUMARE: $310,000 (0 total minutes played)
  • JEFF PARKE: $205,000 (764 minutes played)
  • SEBASTIAN LE TOUX: $200,000 (448 minutes, not starting regularly)

Out of those five names, only Parke is living up to his salary so far (he'll likely miss Saturday's game against Chicago, ironically thrusting the previously excommunicated Soumare into the lineup).

Ives Garlacep of SoccerByIves.net recently posted his All-Overpaid Team, which includes two Union players (Kleberson and Soumare), despite the fact that the Union rank near the bottom of the league in salary.

During the last offseason, and most of this season, I've given the Union a little bit of a pass when it comes to player salaries and roster management. Manager John Hackworth is trying to fix Peter Nowak's many mistakes -- mistakes that easily set this franchise back a full season or more. Even Kleberson, who I would like to see more of, is a player who to some extent was thrust upon the Union as a consequence of ridding themselves of Nowak's Adu debacle. Valdes was an all-star who wanted to go home, and I was totally for the re-acquisition of Le Toux -- a move I won't second-guess, even if he doesn't score another goal.

But the Soumare situation has been completely mishandled (as I foresaw before it all went wrong), and that one is entirely on Hackworth. His lofty salary just makes it seem even worse. Maybe he plays well Saturday, Parke returns in a week or so, and Hackworth finally considers moving Okogu back to the midfield. The young phenom hasn't exactly been lighting it up in the back in recent weeks, anyway.

But if the Union spend the season on the same inconsistent roller-coaster they've been riding so far, fingers deserve to be pointed. And the annual salary list is as good a place as any to start.

Today's Game:

Chicago Fire (2-5-1, 7 points) vs. Philadelphia Union (3-3-3, 12 points)

1:30 p.m. -- Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill. -- TV: NBC Sports Network

Prediction Sure to Be Way Off:

I correctly predicted the draw last week, if not the final score. I'd have to think the Union will take a draw again on Saturday, especially with Parke out and the untested Soumare likely in the middle. But unfortunately for the Union, I foresee a late backbreaker by the Fire.

Fire 2, Union 1

Instant Replay: Reds 5, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Reds 5, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola struggled and the Phillies' offense slumbered in a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies had just one hit through eight innings and three overall in losing for the 21st time in the last 26 games. They scored both of their runs in the ninth inning.

Over their last six games, five of which have been losses, the Phillies have been held to three hits four times.

The Phillies have scored just nine runs in their last six games.

Nola came off the disabled list and pitched seven innings of one-run ball Sunday in Pittsburgh. He failed to build on that outing against a Cincinnati club that entered the game with nine losses in its previous 12 games.

Starting pitching report
Nola, who entered the game having given up just one home run in 23 innings this season, gave up a pair of long balls in the first two innings as the Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead. In all, the right-hander gave up six hits and five runs over six innings.

Nola is 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA in five starts.

Cincinnati right-hander Tim Adleman's 20th big-league start was the best of his career. The right-hander pitched eight shutout innings and allowed just four baserunners on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman. He struck out four.

Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA this season.

Bullpen report
Mark Leiter Jr. pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three for the Phillies.

Asher Wojciechowski lost the shutout in the ninth. Raisel Iglesias came on for the final two outs. He struck out Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, hacking wildly at a full-count breaking ball to end the game.

At the plate
Andres Blanco, the Phillies' No. 2 hitter, singled in the first inning. The Phillies did not have another hit until there was one out in the ninth.

Aaron Altherr doubled in the ninth to break up the Reds' shutout bid.

Odubel Herrera batted leadoff and ran his slump to 0 for 13 before doubling in the ninth. He hit a ball hard earlier in the game, too, but Cincinnati leftfielder Adam Duvall made a nice diving catch.

For Cincinnati, Duvall and Scott Schebler took Nola deep. Jose Peraza had a two-run single against Nola in the sixth inning. He has a 12-game hitting streak.

In the field
Cincinnati catcher Devin Mesoraco made a terrific play in starting a 2-4-3 double play to end the seventh inning.

Minor matters
Second base prospect Jesmuel Valentin had season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in Philadelphia on Friday. Valentin, who was playing at Triple A Lehigh Valley, is looking at a recovery time of four to five months. He should be ready to play winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Valentin went down to the final days of camp in a bid to make the Phillies' opening day roster in spring training (see story).

Up next
The series continues in a 4:05 p.m. start Saturday. Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70) pitches against Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 6.75).

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It has been an extraordinary 11 months for P.K. Subban.

The defenseman moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. Left his native Canada to live in the American South. Blended in with new teammates, created a new home and learned a new system of money, too.

Oh, and along the way the former star for the Montreal Canadiens played a key role in Nashville's stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The best way to sum up Subban's approach? C'est la vie.

"I just tried to have the right attitude when change comes my way," Subban said. "I think when you have an open mind, an open mind is like a gold mine. You just have an open mind, you can only go up from there regardless of what comes your way and just always try to approach things in a positive way."

The Canadiens and Predators shocked the NHL last June 29 when Nashville swapped captain Shea Weber for Subban in a rare one-for-one trade of All-Star defensemen. Adding Subban's offensive skills immediately made the Predators a popular pick to be right where they are now as the Western Conference champions.

The stylish Subban has as much flair on the ice with his goal celebrations as off with his hats and stylish suits. The Predators and their fans have embraced all of it.

"When it happened, I came in here with the right attitude and just wanted to be a part of this team and do whatever I can do to help a team win," Subban said (see full story).

Penguins: Team rides maturity, resilience back to Cup Final
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

"Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim," Crosby said. "We've just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We've done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength" (see full story).