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

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies (70-85) at Mets (82-73)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

After two rough losses for the Phillies and their pitching staff, the offense picked them up and came through with a 10-8 win. 22-year-old Jake Thompson takes the hill this afternoon while Robert Gsellman starts a crucial game for the Mets.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. All the pressure on New York, Gsellman
The Mets remain 0.5 games up on the final National League playoff spot. 

While their pitching staff was falling apart at the seams going into (and during) this series, the one saving grace for New York was its soft schedule, facing the Phillies seven times in its last 10. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have to deal with the MLB best Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants end the year vs. the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, a loss on Saturday (thanks in part to Noah Syndergaard getting scratched with strep throat) puts the Mets in a precarious position. They're tied in the loss column with the Cards and Giants while fighting for one of two playoff spots and their rotation most closely resembles their Triple A team from Opening Day. 

Gsellman is one of those pitchers who started the year never having tasted the major leagues. In fact, he started the year in Double A. His first career start came at Citi Field last month against the Phillies and resulted in his first career loss after he allowed four runs in six innings. 

He's been better since that start, carrying a 3.13 ERA into Sunday. The 23-year-old righty will likely start vs. the Phillies again next weekend, meaning the Mets' season rides in part on a rookie with just 31 2/3 innings in the majors. 

2. Young man on a roll
While Gsellman lost his last start, Thompson has won his last two starts. The young righty is on a hot streak as his season nears an end.

Thompson's ERA has goe down in each of his last five starts, a stat made less impressive by the fact that he began that run with a 9.78 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in his last eight starts and has shown glimpses of why he was such a valued prospects.

In September, Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four starts. He's still allowed 33 baserunners in 23 1/3 innings during that span, but it's been much better than his lackluster August.

While Thompson is in line to start next weekend against the Mets as well, today could be his final start of the season. He has already set a career-high in innings and the Phillies may not want to extend him one more start.

3. What to look for in the season's final week
Including Sunday, the Phillies have just seven games left in their season. They're eliminated from playoff contention, but there's still plenty to watch as the Phils take on Braves and Mets.

Ryan Howard's final fairwell: With his five-year, $125 million deal coming to a close this year, Howard is almost certainly playing his final games in Philadelphia next week. He'll get plenty of starts and may even face the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he's smacked three home runs off of in his career.

Playing spoiler: As mentioned above, the Mets have everything on the line both today and next weekend in Philadelphia. There are few better ways to end a postseason-less season than knocking a rival out of playoff contention.

More looks at the kids: Roman Quinn's emergence over the last two weeks has been fun to watch and Jorge Alfaro may get more chances in the last seven games. Beyond them, Thompson, Tommy Joseph and others close out a nice first season. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has looked more like his 2015 self over the last few weeks. He's batting .310 in September with three home runs, matching his August total. His 15 RBI this month are his most in a month other than July. 

Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera has been on fire this month as well. After battting .405 in August, he's batting .333 and has five home runs, including the walk-off homer on Thursday. He's slugging .628 this month after putting up a .786 slugging percentage in August. 

5. This and that
• In Gsellman's August start vs. the Phillies, he only allowed one run while he was in the game. However, he left the bases loaded in the 7th with no outs before A.J. Ellis knocked in the decisive two-run double to give the Phils a lead they would not relinquish.

• Six different Phillies batters had hits off Gsellman, including Jimmy Paredes who went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Despite pitching injuries, the Mets have the eighth-best team ERA in September with a 3.64 average. The Phillies are 15th in baseball with a 4.10 ERA this month.

• The Phillies are 6-9 against the Mets this year. They're already ensured of a better finish than last year's 5-14 mark vs. New York.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident

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Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident

MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez, the ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball's brightest stars, was killed in boating accident early Sunday morning. Fernandez was 24.

The Marlins announced Fernandez's death, and the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that Fernandez was one of three people killed in a boat crash off Miami Beach.

In the statement, the Marlins say they are "devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."

Chief Petty Officer Nyxolyno Cangemi told The Associated Press that a Coast Guard patrol boat spotted an overturned boat at 3:30 a.m. on a jetty near Government Cut. The bodies were discovered a short time later.

Because the boat was on a jetty, the Coast Guard notified Miami-Dade police, which turned the investigation over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fernandez was on a 32-foot vessel that had a "severe impact" with a jetty, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Fish Commission.

A news conference was planned for later Sunday morning.

Fernandez was a two-time All-Star who went 38-17 in his four seasons with the Marlins, winning the NL's Rookie of the Year award in 2013. The native of Santa Clara, Cuba became a U.S. citizen last year.

He tried to defect from Cuba at least three times -- landing in jail after one of those unsuccessful tries -- before eventually getting to the U.S. and going to high school in Tampa, Florida. The Marlins drafted him in 2011 and Fernandez was in the majors two years later.

The Marlins' game Sunday at home against the Atlanta Braves has been cancelled.