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.
The annual ritual of MLS Union release of their salary info and soccer media dissection that follows. Kind of like critiquing half a film...
— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) May 7, 2013
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.
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