When TFC signed forward Argentine forward Pablo Vitti on loan, for example, it must have assumed he'd perform well enough to merit $303,000 in compensation, particularly since he'd be playing with Dwayne De Rosario, signed as a max-salary player ($425,750 base) after some sensational years - including four MLS Cup titles -- at San Jose and Houston.
With just two goals and one assist in 24 games, Vitti is further down the value list than, say rookie midfielder Sam Cronin, a real steal at $36,000 base and $84,000 total compensation. Chad Barrett (five goals and three assists in 26 games) might also seem a bit pricey at ($195,000/$202,500).
Such examples can be found on the rosters of most teams, and despite rumors of the per-team salary cap ($2.3 million for 2009) going up sharply as a condition of a new collective bargaining agreement currently being negotiated, it's doubtful the MLS Board of Governors will permit the union to set salary-cap figures. Under the current CBA, there is a minimum benchmark each team must allot to salaries, but the actual cap is adjusted annually and approved by vote of the Board.
DeRo, on the other hand, has put up good numbers (11 goals, five assists) while playing 25 of 27 games, and just might have recharged the movement to install grass at BMO Field. His complaints about the surface early in the season, while certainly not the first such utterance, dovetailed with pleas from fans and concerns voiced by TFC coaches and executives. The statements last year of Quakes midfielder Darren Huckerby, whose MLS rights were first claimed by TFC by the discovery mechanism, citing FieldTurf as one reason he wouldn't play in Toronto, spurred the change as well.
On Wednesday the Toronto City Council approved a project by which grass will be installed at BMO Field in time for the 2010 MLS season. The estimated cost of the project is $6 million, which the team will pay for, as well as the Designated Player salary of Julian de Guzman, whose deal is worth $ 909,600.00/$956,350.00, according to figures listed on the MLS Players' Union Web site .
What is more prevalent than ever before on MLS rosters are loan players and their various salary figures, which is why a rock-solid defender like Jhon Kennedy Hurtado of Seattle has a base salary of $36,000, and his teammate, the exciting young forward Fredy Montero, is listed at $155,000. The most extreme example is Houston forward Luis Angel Landin, who has been signed on loan as a Designated Player yet for this season counts only $120.000 in salary, which is more than three times more than dynamic Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden, who might be the bargain of 2009 at a salary of $34,728.75.
Whether or not players on loan to MLS are also being paid salaries or other compensation by the clubs or other entities does not factor in negotiations, according to MLS vice president Todd Durbin, who oversees all player matters. The league is much more aggressive and adamant about getting options to buy written into loan agreements, and more teams and players are willing to deal with MLS than in the past.
"I do believe the profile of our league has grown significantly in the past few years," says Durbin, who worked with former MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis prior to his move to Arsenal last December. "I think that not only clubs, but players, respect the level of the league and regard it as an outstanding place to potentially play the rest of their career, but also play and continue to develop their skills."
Durbin also refutes reports that MLS has concluded a deal to buy Montero's contract, though there is a pre-negotiated transfer price written into the loan agreement. He also stipulates that the league negotiates with no other agencies other than clubs. " We have options on both players and we'll visit it at the end of the year," says Durbin.
"From the league's standpoint, we're not involved in any negotiations at this point. It's fair to assume we'll be having those discussions as soon as the season is over. If we're not acquiring the player from a club, there won't be a loan fee or transfer fee involved."
How's this for an all-bargain squad of 20, for players who earn $36,000 or thereabouts in total compensation (it does not include Generation Adidas players who earn significantly more in total compensation than their base salaries):
Goalies: Brad Knighton (Revs), Jon Conway (Chivas USA).
Defenders: AJ DeLaGarza (Galaxy), Darrius Barnes (Revs), Eric Brunner (Crew), Jair Benitez (Dallas, on loan), Hurtado (loan), George John (Dallas).
Midfielders: Andre Luiz (San Jose), Jeff Larentowicz (Revs), Corey Ashe, Geoff Cameron, Stuart Holden (all Houston), Sinisa Ubiparipovic (Red Bulls).
Forwards: Kheli Dube (Revs), Steven Lenhart (Crew), Bryan Jordan (Galaxy), Jesus Padilla (Chivas USA, loan), Jorge Flores (Chivas USA), Dominic Oduro (Houston).