Photo: Earl Gardner
Whenever the Major League Soccer Players Union releases players’ salary numbers, it’s usually the rare opportunity to step back and see who’s worth their salary and who’s not. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do here, with a look at each Union player’s salary and evaluation of whether they’re worth it or not.
MLS treats salary information largely like Philadelphia Union treats new player signings — like a state secret in Russia — so the information is typically only available once or twice annually, and even then, not from the league itself.
This year, we got two updates — one in May and the second this week — so the only significant new item is Freddy Adu’s salary will be nearly $600,000 a year over the life of his contract. That’s the highest salary ever for a Union player, but don’t mistakenly think it means the Union are paying all or even half that. We’ll get into that more below, with a look at each player’s dollars, cents, and actual worth.
How MLS salary budgets work
MLS clubs have a salary budget of $2,675,000 per team this year, but that’s not a hard cap. League rules have so many caveats and end-rounds, ranging from buy-downs to the designated player rule, that it amounts to little more than an advisory to clubs for balancing the books. For example, the Union’s total payroll is about $3.5 million, while the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls each have total team salaries over $13 million.
A player’s base salary is just that — the base of what they get paid. The second salary figure, the guaranteed compensation, factors in marketing bonuses and agent’s fees, according to the players union. For many Union players, the two figures are the same. The most significant exceptions are their recent first round amateur draft picks and big names like Adu and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.
Are they worth it?
The “big” salaries
- M Freddy Adu – Base: $475,884, Total compensation: $594,884
Thanks to a new league rule announced upon Adu’s signing (yeah, that’s how MLS rolls), only $200,000 of Adu’s salary counts against the team’s salary budget until he turns 23. That’s $135,000 less than a standard designated player. Whether the Union are paying the full tab or just the budget hit is something we’ll probably never know, thanks to the league’s Swiss banking approach to salary info. Adu’s body of work is incomplete, but at a $200k hit, a young American playmaker with Adu’s upside is rare. The question is: Will he develop into a better player than Benny Feilhaber, the player the Union passed on in order to have a shot at Adu? Verdict: Worth the money, particularly at the lower rate.
- GK Faryd Mondragon – Base: $230,000, Total: $396,666
Mondragon got much of the credit outside Philadelphia for solidifying the Union back line early this season, but those who follow the team closely saw there was a lot more to it than just that. Now that Jordan Harvey’s departure and Carlos Valdes’ dip in form have revealed defensive shortcomings, even the outsiders should see that more than Mondragon was at work. Still, while Mondragon may have lost a step in his shot-stopping, his play has far exceeded what the Union goalkeepers provided last year, and his back line trusts him more. He’s a good player for rookie Zac MacMath to watch. Verdict: Worth the money.
- D Danny Califf - Base: $250,000
Califf is the league’s sixth highest paid defender, and he’s turned in a season that’s worth it. Some may argue he’s not even the best defender on the Union, but Valdes’ dip in form has shown, in contrast, just how important Califf’s consistency is. With his hard work and heart-on-his-sleeve personality, Califf and Philly were made for each other. Verdict: Worth it.
- F Danny Mwanga – Base: $120,000, Total: $226,250
Generation Adidas players are considered to be off-budget players, but there’s no way Mwanga will be GA next year. Still, a young forward with his talent is rare in MLS, even if he’s not ready yet to play the role of lone striker. Verdict: Worth it.
- D Juan Diego Gonzalez – Base: $189,000, Total: $193,462.50
Gonzalez hasn’t appeared in a regular season game this year. That says everything you need to know. Nobody outside the club seems to know just what happened over the off-season that put him in manager Peter Nowak’s doghouse, but everyone knows he’s never getting out. He’s the league’s highest paid player to not play this season. It’s easy to call Gonzalez a bust, but he played decently after joining the Union last year. If Nowak was going to staple him to the bench, he should’ve just traded him for a cheaper benchwarmer. Verdict: Not worth it.
- M Justin Mapp – Base: $175,000, Total: $183,333
Mapp shows signs of brilliance no one else on this team can match. If only he could show some signs of consistency. He should spend the offseason working on right-footed crosses. The Union suddenly have a wealth of talented young midfielders, and with only three spots in front of Brian Carroll, Mapp is increasingly in danger of losing one of them. If Nowak gives up on the Farfans-as-left-backs experiment (and Keon Daniel is ever let back into the country), Mapp may be the first midfielder to go because of his salary and their ages. Verdict: Just barely worth it this year, but another season of one-footed inconsistency isn’t.
- D Carlos Valdes - Base: $180,000
One of the league’s best defenders, his recent dip in form notwithstanding. When he’s in peak form, the Union have the league’s second best center back pairing (behind Real Salt Lake). Verdict: Worth it.
The middle tier
- F/M Sebastien Le Toux – Base: $155,000, Total: $179,000
Among the league leaders in assists, finally found his finishing touch, and runs forever. Not as good as in 2010, but still a bargain when he can get anywhere near that form. Verdict: Worth it.
- M Amobi Okugo – Base: $85,000, Total: $168,000
If Okugo remains Generation Adidas for another year, he’s worth it. But if not, the pressure on him could rise. Brian Carroll isn’t likely to give up his starting position anytime soon. Verdict: Worth it, for now.
- M Brian Carroll – Base: $160,000
Carroll has been terrific as a lone defensive midfielder. He’s had some injury problems this year, but if they don’t wear him down too much, he should be a lineup fixture for the next few years. Verdict: Worth it.
- M Stefani Miglioranzi – Base: $130,000, Total: $153,125
If the Union have a way out of Migs’ contract, they’ll take it. He’s had a rough season and no longer merits as a starter due to Carroll’s presence, but he still has value as a backup defensive midfielder and even center back. He’s a good locker room presence and team leader. The Union should look to renegotiate and keep him as a backup, provided fans can accept that’s what he is and should be. At his current salary, however, there’s no way he’s back unless the Union are stuck on the hook. Verdict: Not worth it.
- F Jack McInerney – Base: $71,250, Total: $135,416
Teenage forwards with national team potential are nice, but he needs more playing time. Carlos Ruiz’s presence blocked him, but what’s the problem now? He won’t develop without playing time. Verdict: Worth it.
- GK Zac MacMath – Base: $80,000, Total: $125,000
Another Generation Adidas player who should be off-budget for at least another season (and possibly two), provided Mondragon returns as expected. That adds value, as does the fact that he’s too young to legally drink alcohol. Verdict: Worth it.
- M Roger Torres – Base: $105,600, Total: $108,725
He’s finally getting regular playing time again, and he’s impressing. Go figure. Verdict: Worth it, as long as he’s getting time.
- M/F Veljko Paunovic – Base: $90,000
Really? That’s all it costs for an experienced and unselfish veteran contributor? Wow. Even if he’s just a part-time starter or role player (which he should be), that’s a good rate. Verdict: Worth it.
The steals: Oh my God, is that all they’re getting paid?
Right back Sheanon Williams and midfielders Keon Daniel, Kyle Nakazawa, and Gabriel Farfan are criminally underpaid. They’re all making right around the league minimum, between $42,000 and $47,000. Michael Farfan makes the league minimum ($42,000) in base salary but gets a bump up to $79,000 thanks to bonus pay. They’re all worth more than what they’re paid. And they all deserve more.
Williams is probably the biggest steal in the league, with apologies to Seattle’s Mauro Rosales. If Williams doesn’t get a fat raise next year, the Union will deserve what they get when he goes to Europe on a free transfer. Lock him up, and pay him fairly.
The young benchwarmers
Levi Houapeu and Ryan Richter each make $32,604 as developmental players. That’s worth it for young players who might develop, and even if they never play in a league game, it helps build the Union’s local talent pipeline to have two guys with local ties like these two.
The same goes for Zach Pfeffer, whose $55,000 base salary (with $65,000 total compensation) might be worth it just for the publicity. His signing puts the Union front and center for talented teenagers throughout the region.
As for new signing Joe Tait, he’s making the minimum league salary of $42,000. Let’s see what he can do.