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 MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap). 

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap). 

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest. Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.