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MLS bargains & busts
by Paul Kennedy, September 16th, 2011 2:19AM

TAGS:  mls, soccer business


[MONEY MATTERS] The release by the MLS Players Union of player salaries as of Sept. 1 was certainly revealing. As MLS moves into the home stretch, candidates abound for this season's bargains and busts. We select this year's five bargains -- players who have had great seasons despite earning the minimum or next to the minimum -- and five busts -- players who have contributed little despite making big money.

(Click y%20Club.pdf">here for team-by-team salaries as of Sept. 1.)

Note: Salary figures represent 2011 guaranteed compensation.


1. Mauro Rosales (Seattle: $42,000). The Sounders had little money to offer the veteran Argentine when he arrived in the spring, but general manager Adrian Hanauer says the Sounders promised they'd take care of him in the future if he produced. Well, Rosales has produced in a big way, scoring four goals and seven assists in MLS action for the Sounders, who are second in the MLS overall standings, perfect in the Concacaf Champions League (3-0-0) and headed to the U.S. Open Cup final in search of a three-peat. Yes, Rosales' agent, former MLS goalie Dario Sala, is working with the Sounders on a new contract for next year.

2. Graham Zusi (Sporting KC: $42,000). There was nothing about the Maryland product's first two seasons -- nine starts, one goal, one assist -- that would have made his minimum salary extraordinary, but his 2011 season makes him a major bargain. He has five goals and six assists in 26 games to help SKC climb back into the playoff hunt. He was named the MLS Player of the Month for June, starting four consecutive matches for the first time in his career and adding three game-winning assists to go along with two goals.

3. Marvin Chavez (FC Dallas: $50,000). In his third season in MLS, the Honduran has been one of FCD's unsung stars, scoring five goals and four assists -- more than his first two seasons combined when his guaranteed compensation was $70,000 a season. He's started all but one game for the Hoops, who are third overall in the MLS standings. He's played on the wings and up front for Dallas, which lost David Ferreira, the reigning league MVP, with a broken leg early in the season.

4. George John (FC Dallas: $42,000). John was hoping for a big bump in salary when he headed to England to finalize a transfer to Blackburn Rovers in late August. When the deal didn't materialize, he headed back to FC Dallas for which he was a No. 14 pick in the 2009 SuperDraft. The Greek-American has blossomed into one of MLS's top young central defenders and eyed a move to Europe rather than re-signing with Dallas for a much higher salary.

5. Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia: $42,000). When a contract with a European team did not materialize after Williams left North Carolina after his freshman season, he ended up in the USL Second Division (third level) last season with the Harrisburg City Islanders. He joined the Union toward the end of its first season and immediately stepped into the starting lineup, where he's been ever since. At 21, he is considered one of MLS's top young outside backs and a candidate for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.


1. Mustapha Jarju (Vancouver: $426,883). Unlike MLS Gambians like Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi, who were plucked from the Baby Scorpions, Gambia's U-20 national team, Jarju was an established pro when he joined the Whitecaps, having spent five seasons in Belgium. But since coming to Vancouver, he has no goals and no assists in just 296 minutes of action. His best work has been with the Caps' reserves, not exactly what they had in mind when they made him MLS's first African Designated Player.

2. Frank Rost (New York: $545,460). The Red Bulls took a risk signing the 38-year-old German as their third Designated Player, filling the spot they set aside when they chose not to re-sign Juan Pablo Angel after the 2010 season and letting veteran keeper Greg Sutton go on loan to the NASL's Montreal Impact. But he gave up eight goals in three-plus MLS games and hasn't played since coming off at halftime of a 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake more than a month ago. He's been sidelined with a quadriceps injury suffered while sitting on the flight back from London, where the Red Bulls won the Emirates Cup. Back in MLS, it's been more than two months since NYRB has won a game.

3. Juan Diego Gonzalez (Philadelphia, $193,462.50). Signed in August 2010, the 31-year-old Colombian played seven games for the Union last season but has yet to make an appearance in 2011 despite his salary, the fifth highest on the team in terms of guaranteed compensation. Even when Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes, the two regular center backs, have been unavailable, Union coach Peter Nowak has gone with a patchwork backline instead of using Gonzalez.

4. Marko Maric (Chicago, $200,000). Signed to the second highest salary on the Fire roster, the Croatian was supposed fill the playmaking role in Chicago. But he was injured in a game against the Portland Timbers on April 14 and spent the remainder of the season on Injured Reserve before being waived on Wednesday. His minutes for the season: 19.

5. Shavar Thomas (Sporting KC: $174,375). The 30-year-old Jamaican center back joined Kansas City, his sixth MLS team, in June 2010 and started 16 of 18 games the rest of the way, but he has played only 35 minutes in three brief league appearances this season. The emergence of young American Matt Besler, a 2011 MLS All-Star making just $69,660, and the arrival of Brazilian Julio Cesar and Frenchman Aurelien Collin dropped Thomas down on the SKC depth chart at center back. In the meantime, he remains a regular on the Jamaican national team that will face the USA next year in World Cup 2014 qualifying.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: September 16, 2011 at 12:09 p.m.
    This is a very interesting informative article that says a lot about the coaching-led player selection processes that is a 50-50 proposition. However, one must also consider just how much of a selling process is involved by the player's agents as it is in the case of the "Busts" players vs the "Bargains." By this, one wonders if the "bargains" had little or no player agent to wit, Rosales, who is represented by his agent Salas. So does little or no representation equals being signed at a lower salary and thus are younger "bargains" want to prove themselves, as opposed to the "busts" who seem to be older and perhaps even full of themselves and can in fact and deed afford to pay their agents their normal percentage of the salary, signing bonus and of course other additional incentives such as how many minutes they play, how many goals and assists, etc. What is also interesting to note is that for the "bargains" except for S. Williams, his age is listed as being 21 but one is left for wanting how old the others are. On the other hand the "busts" are obviously over 30. Still it is interesting indeed.

  1. R.a. Vizcarra
    commented on: September 16, 2011 at 2:06 p.m.
    Looking at the top 5 names, I can't help but feel shame for the league that it would pay so little to these players. It is quite ludicrous and embarrassing for the top "professional" soccer league in the US to pay close to nothing to these home-grown athletes, and yet pretend to be world class. If only the salaries were reversed with the bottom five, it would make some sense. MLS, you need to stop paying minor league salaries if you want to grow up.

  1. Rudy Espindola
    commented on: September 16, 2011 at 4:11 p.m.
    Many parents have already spent that much developing their Kids in soccer.

  1. Paul Bryant
    commented on: September 16, 2011 at 11:21 p.m.
    Touche` Rudy!

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: September 18, 2011 at 5:40 p.m.
    To Rudy: Excellent point Rudy! It is very easy to forget how much one has spent on his/herpalyer sor/daughter what with the at times exhorbitant fees that the so called professional coach charges! and I also disagree that the MLS is considered or some consider it to be "world class," because it will be another five to ten years before it reaches such international distinction. The MLS must get off their rear ends and compensate talented players in a more just manner, and one aspect of the salary point is that the very same Players Association - which we don't hear too much about - are just as much in "cahoots" when the time comes to negotiate salaries, yet the single entity factor sucks for our own player development and appropriate compensation! And thus, is it no wonder and not a rocket scientist to figure out whay we lose young talent to other international leagues and national teams.... leaving many to cry in their milk or beer!

  1. Robert Kiernan
    commented on: September 22, 2011 at 6:44 a.m.
    Well it's clear to Me that the time has come...actually after 15 years it clear it actually came some time ago, for this single entity business to continue is going to long term have the effect of limiting any side actually growing and just as importantly RETAINING it's players year to year... look at the number of free transfers that leave the individual sides with next to nothing... when New England lost Michael Parkhust to Scandinavia just what did the team receive, a draft choice from our Collegiate players... is that doing them any good really? When Houston loses both Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark... what do they get from this...answer not very much, but if any of these players had a viable contract then likely at least they would end up with some MONEY to use to rebuild their sides... this goes for the players like Bocanegra, Dempsey, Altidore, or Bradley... yes the LEAGUE made some money, but the individual teams hardley get anything of value... this simply must change if this league is to be considered more than a minor league loaded with the VERY young and the far from young... it's been a decade and a half now and there are 19 sides, one short of FIFA's mandate of 20 or fewer for a nation's top league, if they go beyond this number they will be risking being on the wrong side of FIFA and those preseason tours by top European sides...who by and large made MLS look rather a bush league rather than "Major League" complete with the money they generated could be a thing of the past. Simple fact is that continuing to underpay 22 year old rookies and overpay 32 year old "name" players picked up from other established leagues each spring is not a plan than will work forever... time to look at what changes are necessary for the league and it's sides to continue to improve or it will be a slow downward slide... fear of over spending in the manner of the old NASL is no excuse for not having a reasonable plan for the future. Time gradually to raise the salary cap and definitely time to allow individual sides to grow their own... (ICE)

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