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

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).