MLS Focus: 2018 Bargain-basement team

For all the talk of DPs and TAM signings, this should serve as a reminder that plenty of good MLS players are playing for modest wages.

Here's our team of bargain-basement players for 2018, those making less than $100,000 in total compensation, per the latest's MLSPA figures released this week.

Goalkeeper Matt Turner, New England ($67,500).
Started first 26 games for the Revs before being replaced by Brad Knighton with New England's season slipping away. Named to the Team of the Week three times in first two months of the season.

Right Back Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas ($67,500).
Was penciled in as the starting right back in preseason and has kept the job all season after playing one minute for FCD in 2017. Played well enough that he was called up to the U.S. national team, starting in its 1-1 tie with Peru. Spent one season at UCLA before returning to Dallas on a Homegrown contract.

Center Back Aaron Long, NY Red Bulls ($73,125).
Didn't play a minute in MLS in his first three seasons out of UC Riverside but was the USL Defender of the Year with the champion Red Bulls II in 2016 and has been a starter for the first team ever since. Anchors best defense in MLS (33 goals allowed in 33 games). Also earned first start for the USA against Peru in East Hartford.

Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Center Back Jack Elliott, Philadelphia ($59,630) & Matt McKenzie, Philadelphia ($64,500)
Elliott and McKenzie have shared a spot in the middle of the backline for the playoff-bound Union so they are a joint pick. Elliott was a fourth-round pick -- 77th overall -- in the 2017 SuperDraft from London via West Virginia University and ended up as a finalist for the 2017 Rookie of the Year. McKenzie is a Homegrown product who spent last season at Wake Forest. He'll join the U-20s in World Cup qualifying in Bradenton if the Union is eliminated from the playoffs, if not during the FIFA break.

Left Back Ben Sweat, NYCFC ($67,500).
Like Long, Sweat is a late bloomer who has played so well in his two MLS seasons that he earned a call-up to the national team in October, coming off the bench against Colombia and starting against Peru. Didn't play for the Columbus Crew in 2014 after being drafted out of USF but developed when he returned to Tampa to play for the NASL Rowdies. Thrived under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira at NYCFC before the Frenchman's move to Nice.

Photo: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, LAFC ($75,000).
The young Canadian was discovered in the USL, where he won the 2017 league title with Louisville City. Played an invaluable role for LAFC in central midfield during its fast start to its inaugural season but was lost for the season late in July with an ankle injury.

Midfielder Alphonso Davies, Vancouver ($72,500).
The Canadian teenager, still only 17, will be making a lot more than he did in MLS when he joins Bayern Munich after inking a transfer deal that could reach a record $22 million. Born in Ghana to parents who were refugees from the Second Liberian Civil War and settled in Edmonton before joining Whitecaps Residency at the age of 14. Made his MLS debut for the 'Caps at the age of 15 in 2016.

Midfielder Latif Blessing, LAFC ($84,375).
Acquired with the No. 2 pick in the Expansion Draft and has been a solid contributor for LAFC with five goals and six assists in 29 games. Was named the 2016 Ghana Premier League Player of the Year for Liberty Professionals before joining Sporting KC.

LAFC Photo

Forward Daniel Salloi, Sporting KC ($81,625).
Enjoying his best MLS season with 10 goals and seven assists. Joined SKC in 2016 from his native Hungary. Earned a "Homegrown" deal because he played with SKC's U-18s while attending Blue Valley Northwest High School as an exchange student.

Forward Corey Burke, Philadelphia ($71,224).
How valuable has the 26-year-old Jamaican been for the Union. It's 7-0-1 in games in which he has scored. In all, he has scored nine goals and added one assist in his first MLS season. Another late bloomer who moved from Rivoli United in 2016 to play for Bethlehem Steel, the Union's USL team.

Forward Cory Baird, Real Salt Lake ($54,500).
Scored eight goals and added five assists in 31 games for RSL, which needed help up front when Spaniard Alfredo Ortuno, a TAM signing, was a bust. Signed to a HG deal for the bare minimum salary after winning three straight NCAA titles at Stanford.

7 comments about "MLS Focus: 2018 Bargain-basement team".
  1. Tim Lenahan, October 26, 2018 at 8:47 a.m.

    Tyler Miller in Goal?  Only GK in top 5 for shots, wins and Shutouts and making 65k+ 

  2. Bob Ashpole, October 26, 2018 at 9:53 a.m.

    Paul, I always enjoy these articles. 

    The MLS business model (salary caps) prevents clubs from financially rewarding players like these for good play.

  3. Brent Boone, October 26, 2018 at 11:58 a.m.

    This is actually an embarassment to MLS.  No wonder they can't keep the better young players from jumping overseas.  More and more of these better younger players will stop signing HG contracts, wait until they are 18 and then sign abroad.  Or if a 16 year old is smart will only sign a two year deal and then move on a free transfer when they turn 18.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, October 26, 2018 at 1:06 p.m.

    Why would an aspiring young player turn down the opportunity to play professionally in MLS? Sure if he has an actual offer from a better club, yes. But FIFA strictly regulates international transfers for minors so those offers are rare. Turning down a contract now in hopes of getting a better offer 2 years in the future is not prudent. What matters is not the players potential at 16, but what his potential will be two years later at 18. 

  5. R2 Dad, October 26, 2018 at 1:28 p.m.

    MLS has done an excellent job so far with what they've got...but the wheels will start falling off due to issues  like these players who can't make any money in the sport in the US. One of the problems is the lack of big signing bonuses. If you're structuring your US salary-capped league, the signing bonus is the hook. In MLB and NFL drafts, top players get enough signing bonus to buy themselves a fancy car and their mom a house.  Those players play 4-5 years and they're done at 27. MLS can throw more money at these 18YOs, and that will work in some instances (Jordan Morris) but the Jadon Sanchos in the US are willing to walk away from the money because they know training quality and playing minutes are all that matter. MLS can't really offer that--this is a "wait your turn" league (except for the DPs). One of the basic premises of MLS is that you can corral US citizens/players in this closed system and there is no leakage to outside leagues unless MLS can profit from it. This leak is now a hemmorhage and MLS is losing 18YOs without any economic return as kids sign for free in Europe. Meanwhile, Garber is trying to figure out how he can sign more Corey Burkes.

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, October 26, 2018 at 7:06 p.m.

    Bad example. Morris was a college product.

  7. Craig Cummings, October 31, 2018 at 10:26 p.m.

    What 16 year old is going to turn down $54,000 to play soccer. You can not make that flipping burgers. 

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