Last week, the MLS Players Union released their annual player salary figures to the public. MLS has many different rules when it comes to how clubs can pay their players. Unlike the top soccer leagues around the world, there is a salary cap to reinforce parity as we see in other American sports leagues. The designated player rule and targeted allocation money allow for teams to spend money outside of the salary cap on certain players. These confusing rules lead to large differences in the salaries of MLS players. The publicity of these MLS salary numbers allows us to take a look at the players that are being overpaid as well as the guys who are underpaid.
· Gilberto (Chicago Fire, $1,145,000): Gilberto is one of just 23 players in the entire league that is set to take home over a million dollars in 2016. The 26 year old has played in 9 games this season with 8 starts and is yet to score a goal for the Fire. Did I mention that he is a forward? The reason Chicago is paying him the big bucks is to find the back of the net. Chicago is currently sitting at the bottom of the eastern conference standings while averaging less than a goal a game. Some big name players are signed for millions partly for marketing purposes. That is not the case with Gilberto. He has never suited up for his national team or played in a top European league. He still has time this season to redeem himself and earn all of that money they are paying him but he needs to turn it around quickly before the Fire fan base loses faith.
· DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo, $813,333): As a fan of Beasley for so long, you hate to see him on this list. People might be surprised to see him here because he has been one of the few bright spots for the Dynamo since joining the club after the 2014 World Cup. The fact of the matter is, no MLS team should be paying a 34 year old left back over $800,000. That is not how to best manage the MLS salary rules. Players making that much should be guys who can win a game for you on their own. Beasley is great at what he does. He gets up into the attack, defends well one vs. one, and is a great locker room guy, but he is not going to be the difference maker in a match. It is great to see Beasley getting paid this amount of money after such a fantastic career; MLS fans just probably do not want their team to be the one sending him his check.
· Frank Lampard (NYCFC, $6,000,000): Super Frank Lampard is an absolute legend and one of the greatest midfielders that the English Premier League has ever seen. Unfortunately for NYCFC fans, his MLS career is off to a horrid start. At $6,000,000 he is one of the league’s highest paid players. He has battled with injuries during the opening stretch of this season and made his season debut last weekend in NYCFC’s embarrassing 7-0 loss to city rivals Red Bulls. Patrick Vieira is going to have some tough decisions as Lampard continues to work back from injury. Lampard and Pirlo are both 37 years old and have limited mobility at this point in their careers. MLS is a fast paced league that requires a lot of running. It will be interesting to see if Vieira can find a way to fit both of these former midfield maestros into a side that can compete physically with the best in MLS.
· Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union, $793,750): Edu is yet to play a game this season in MLS but that is not why he is on his list. He is a good player and one that every team in MLS would like to have on their team as he can play in the center of midfield or defense. Despite his quality, he is still very overpaid in comparison to other players of his level in the league. At nearly $800,000 he is making almost $50,000 more than Kyle Beckerman, a USMNT defensive midfielder. Now compare him to Matt Besler. Besler is scheduled to bring in nearly $70,000 less than Edu this season. Both Beckerman and Besler are good comparisons to Edu as they are two national team players that play the same position. One could argue that he is paid more because he can play both defense and midfield. That is fair, but he is by no means as strong as Beckerman in the midfield or Besler in the back.
·Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas, $170,750): How this kid is being paid just over $170k after his performances over the last couple of seasons is beyond me. Castillo is one of the most exciting players to watch in all of MLS. His blistering pace and willingness to run at defenders differentiate him from other wingers around the league. His excellent 2015 season (9 goals, 9 assists) earned him a call up to the Colombian national team last September. FC Dallas should do everything they possibly can to lock down the soon to be 24 year old for the future and pay him the money he deserves. If they do not, somebody will and they are going to lose their greatest asset.
·Steven Birnbaum (DC United, $116,350): Birnbaum is one of the best young central defenders that the MLS has right now. Over the past two seasons with DC United, he has developed one of the best center back partnerships in the league with veteran Bobby Boswell. His performances in the January Camp and against Guatemala have earned him a spot on the USMNT’s Copa America roster. The prestigious tournament might give him the chance to showcase his talents on the international stage. With reports this week surfacing that Dutch club Feyenoord and currently tracking the defender, it is tough to tell how much longer he will be playing in MLS. If he does end up staying beyond this season, we should expect to see DC make a run at signing him to a long-term contract.
·Richie Marquez (Philadelphia Union, $63,000): It should be considered a crime how much value the Philadelphia Union are getting out of Marquez right now. A little known player coming out of Division III school the University of Redlands just a couple of years ago, Marquez has taken advantage of his opportunities and is now a mainstay in Philly’s backline. He spent the 2014 season on loan with the USL Harrisburg City Islanders before returning to the Union in 2015 to earn a starting spot. He has not looked back since. Marquez is one of the best CBs in the league from a physical standpoint with great size and recovery speed. It seems as though he is maturing with every game he plays and continuing to improve his reading of the game and ball distribution. If the Union can continue their great start to the season, expect to see Marquez’s name in the USMNT’s January Camp conversation.
· Cristian Higuita (Orlando City SC, $80,000): Higuita is one of the best young players in MLS. The 22 year old is exactly what every team wants in their defensive midfielder. He can run forever, tackles well, and led Orlando in passing accuracy during the 2015 expansion season. His inspiring performances led to him being named the Colombia’s 40-man provisional roster for this summer’s Copa America. Recent reports are claiming that Italian giants AC Milan are interested in bringing in Higuita on a transfer. Orlando is obviously going to need to bump up his salary at some point if they are interested in keeping him around. If they are able to find a way to sign him for the long-term, he is the kind of guy a club can build their midfield around for years to come.
The crazy salary rules of MLS mean that there are guys all around the league who are not being paid what they should be. The names above are just a few examples of guys who are either under or overvalued. As the league continues to move forward, the salary rules will change and become more beneficial to the players. Free agency will be a big talking point when the current CBA expires and should allow more players the freedom to negotiate their contracts. Until then, we will continue to see some ridiculous contracts around the league.