A View from Afar / Commentary

Salary list, targeted allocation money shine light on Union spending

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Major League Soccer can create all the new funding mechanisms it wants, but it can’t force clubs to spend intelligently on players.

The MLS Players Association released player salary figures last week, and they drew back the curtain on more head-scratching decisions for player spending by Philadelphia Union.

  • The Union’s three highest paid players are center backs: Maurice Edu, Steven Vitoria and Carlos Valdes, the latter of whom has been on loan with some of his salary logically picked up by his loaning club.
  • Next up is a player on loan (Fernando Aristeguieta) and a goalkeeper who’s been banished from the club (Rais Mbolhi).

On one hand, the news on Mbolhi looks good: He’s only making $350,000, according to the players association, and not the rumored $500,000 that had been reported earlier this year. On the flip side, it does not include performance and some other bonuses, which may explain a bit more why Mbolhi has been banished from the team: They don’t want to pay performance bonuses.

On the other hand, there is Steven Vitoria’s salary of $400,000, which is the same amount as the man he theoretically replaced (Valdes) and doesn’t include the $50,000 the Union paid Vancouver to acquire the discovery rights to sign him. In Vitoria’s defense, he has been injured this season, so it’s hard to gauge whether or not he was a good signing. When healthy, his presence could allow Maurice Edu return to midfield.

But was it really a good idea to pay designated player level salary to any defender, let alone one who only played 28 games in the first tier of any league prior to joining MLS? His signing seemed a good one when announced, but one would have expected his salary to be a good $150,000 or so lower.

To put it in perspective, here is the list of MLS defenders with higher base salaries than Vitoria:

  1. Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles
  2. Matt Besler, Kansas City
  3. DaMarcus Beasley, Houston
  4. Aurelien Colin, Orlando
  5. Jose Goncalves, New England
  6. Liam Ridgewell, Portland

That’s three starters from the U.S. 2014 World Cup squad, arguably the two best foreign center backs in the league prior to this season, and a former English Premier League starter.

And that’s not even going into center back Ethan White, who got a $45,000 raise.

At least they still have the bargain contracts for Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira remaining on the books, along with great deal for C.J. Sapong at $125,000 base salary. The news is not all bad. Only the new news, that is.

The flip side: How Targeted Allocation Money can affect the Union

The new Targeted Allocation Money mechanism announced this month by MLS appears to be a compromise between the wealthy teams’ push for more designated players and the poorer clubs’ resistance to it.

Had the league added a fourth designated player slot for each team, the wealthy teams would have used it, and the lesser clubs — like Philadelphia — would likely not. In the process, the gap between the best and worst teams would widen.

Under the new rule, the wealthier teams still get to free up a designated player slot by buying down a current one.

Meanwhile, all clubs — including the Union — will be forced to use the money to improve their rosters. Every team must spend the $500,000 allotted over five years.

The rule is intended to ensure that clubs like the Union will pony up the extra cash to re-sign, for example, Nogueira if he decides to depart for a better offer. Or it allows them to put that money up for a player like Ignacio Piatti, who at $400,000 has been a great signing for Montreal. But it also circumvents the players association by not including it in the team’s annual $3.49 million base salary budget, meaning that it should not factor in to future collective bargaining negotiations in the same fashion.

(Note: Piatti is a designated player at the same salary as Vitoria, who is *)

Bottom line: The Union just got more money to spend on players, just like every other team, and they have to use it. Competitively, the playing field is even in that sense. Overall, the on-field product for every team should improve.

All around, the latest league financial news is interesting for the Union. “Interesting” seems like a suitably neutral word, doesn’t it?


  1. Fernando, I believe, is designated as a “young designated player.” Basically, the Union take a smaller cap hit on his salary.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Yep, may be! Should’ve mentioned that above. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • Young DPs count normally against the 3 DP limit, correct? If so, then the Targeted Allocation Money could easily be used to buy down Fernando (especially if it is against his prorated salary, since we are at mid-year) or, perhaps even more cheaply, Maidana. Frees up a DP slot for a “cheap”, probably “Young”, DP. Think Dittborn.

  2. I think we can count Maurice Edu’s salary as a centerbacks now.
    This is the way of the future I think. The US has never been good at creating defenders so I think there is going to be a defenders arms race to counter the onslaught of higher priced attacking talent into the league.
    Don Garber must hate that.

  3. Oh as my father has told me so so so many times….there is no cure for stupid…
    ….I commented the other day… the 10th highest payroll is an acceptable outcome… It’s the allocation that is clearly below grade. There is no possible rebuttal to the question….
    …. What is the vision. What is the philosophy. What is the plan.

    • Great One says:

      I tend to agree with you, although I don’t think 10th is acceptable. Really, we’ve all jsut been super conditioned to think that the team is horrendously cheap, that middle of the pack cheap seems okay. BUT, with that in mind, I agree that 10th could be stomached if it weren’t for some of the god awful moves.
      This of course comes back to not having any sort of plan, and Sak being defacto GM.
      This summer season will pas with us MAYBE signing Dittborn, and that’s it.

      • My contention with this club all along is ‘could/should have been great- GRAND even- the kind of club MLS builds loopholes for…the finest Italian Chianti’ … so I acquiesce your point.
        My windmill has brought me to quite and restless desperation that recognizes 10th as acceptable…
        The place that only asks where is the vision, the philosophy, the plan to make 10th beautiful and competitive.

  4. He may not have been the best coach, but maybe Union should have moved Hackworth into the GM spot. Chaco & Nogs were his signings, at what appear to be reasonable salaries. His final draft produced two players who are seeing significant minutes for their clubs – Marquez and Ribeiro. Not saying everything was perfect (Bonesaw!) but seemed to get Moneyball better than the current group.

    Just a thought, feel free to criticize.

    • pragmatist says:

      I completely agree. He seemed to excel, or at least be very competent, at all aspects of the job, minus the on-field coaching. It was his major shortcoming, and unfortunately his top priority.

      He could have been a key to a good and growing organization in the right role. However, he is, instead, a symbol of this organization: Quality that is horribly misused.

    • We definitely need a GM with that sort of know-how. So far the only move this team made since last year I’m prepared to say was a win for the club was getting CJ Sapong. The rest is either obviously bad (Mbolhi), looking like it will be bad (Vitoria) or value to-be-determined (‘Nando).

    • +1, have wanted Hack as the GM since the day he stopped coaching. He’s not stupid, he just can’t stand on the touchline.

  5. besides allocating too much money to centerbacks and goalies, the salary list also shows the club’s inability to find reasonably priced supporting players. The amount the Union pay to players who are not the top earners (either DPs or the just the top 5) leads the league. I could see paying Edu but then the guys around him have to be at Marquez/Williams rates. The other big pay needs to go to forwards. Nando seems to be along those lines and Sapong is now a steal. Nogs and Chaco always have been bargains. Look at Red Bulls or DC – take out their top 5 earners and they are 19 and 13th respectively in total salary paid (which is also where they are when you count all salaries, yet are 6th and 4th respectively in points per game. Seattle and Dallas each pay $2.4M to guys outside their top 5; Union pay $3.3M – the top 5 obviously matter, but they cannot do it themselves (although Dallas shows a different way). No way what Sugarman is doing qualifies as moneyball. the press conference was total misdirection.

    • The other money/investment failure for the Union right now is our winger team of Wenger and Le Toux. The two are making around $500,000 combined and doing nothing.

      • Great One says:

        +1, Le Toux especially is making incredibly too much for his production. He’s a fan favorite and loyal Union guy and hard worker. But those guys don’t make that much money.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        In fairness to the FO, this is the first year Le Toux has not been worth it. He is beginning to show that he is in decline, although the through ball that sprung Nogueira onto the keeper earlier this afternoon was a moment of brilliance.

      • and neither is one of our top 5 earners (including Edu). the money taken up by Valdes, Vitoria, Nando and Mbolhi is ridiculous – players at those salaries have to start/play a lot (assume Nando will once healthy) but same goes for the next 5 (Nogs, Le Toux, Wenger, Chaco and Casey). With Edu those are your top 11 earners. I suppose that was the side (less casey) the FO thought would play – it seems that you cannot pay your first 11 that equally (not accounting for DP overages) and have any depth.

  6. Like most things “MLS rules”, this new allocation money is convoluted. I think there is strings attached to this money- any team using it must sign a new, foreign player at a salary equal to or higher than the player’s salary they are paying down with the TAM. It really is a bonus for the 3 DP teams, not so much for the scrubs like the Union. But I guess it could encourage us to bring in another player which would add to the depth, any player of quality would help even if he would be moderately priced. On the other hand, this money is tradeable so that’s probably what our FO will do with it.

  7. When the salary figures were released, I was more shocked about Vitoria’s salary than I was about M’Bolhi’s.

  8. Absolutely baffling. This is why the Union are the team they are. Absolutely astounding for the price of Edu we could have so many combinations of better players: Lets go team by team CHI – harrison shipp, sean johnson, and mike magee CLB – Ethan finlay, michael parkhurst, tony tchani, will trap (and there is money to spare) COL – MacMath, Irwin, dillion powers, alex sjoberg, gabriel torres (I dunno if I have reached half of Edu’s salary here) DAL – hedges, castillo, akindele, loyd, and kennedy DC – Hamid, Birnbaum, Kitchen, and Korb HOU – Boniek Garcia, Alex, Barnes KC – (You could go with the obvious Besler and you get 50,000$ back) or Sinovic, Myers, Nagamara, Opara, or sinovic, myers, felihaber LA – De LaGarza, Rogers, Husidic, Penedo MTL – Oduro, Piatti NE – Nguyen, tierney, rowe, shuttleworth, fagundez, NYRB – Miazga, Kljestan, Felipe……… sorry the list goes on and on but I am getting to depressed. This team is poorly built we need a new FO who doesn’t pay 700,000$ Edu for middle tier players and doesn’t pay 750,000$ for bench (vitoria)/ exiled players (m’bohli). Value price to me for Edu is $400,000 base salary that is $250,000 behind Besler USMNT starter usually and $100,000 behind Collin a All-Star in this league almost every year.

  9. I don’t want Edu back in the midfield. The only guy he could replace is BC. We’ve seen before that an Edu/Nogs midfield just doesn’t work as well. Nogs is at his best with a stay at home partner who gives him the freedom to get forward. Edu is not that kind of player.

    • Agreed this is why if you ask me Edu and his salary are expendable. While he is a competent center back and does well organizing the backline so could someone else who doesn’t cost $700,000 dollars a year. Its about value for the position and he certainly does not fit with Nogs in the middle.

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