Ranking MLS’s Most Overpaid and Underpaid Players

June 14, 2019 150 Reads

The MLS Players’ Association released salary cap data on Wednesday.

It is one of two times a year that fans are allowed to see how much their teams’ players make, and thus judge how well clubs spend money.

The release can spark some discontent in locker rooms given the disparities in salary between superstars and role players. Top-tier players earn millions, while younger guys on minimum contracts make $56,250 per year. It can be an awkward dichotomy.

Based on the newest salary release, here are the players who are the most egregiously overpaid and underpaid, judged based on their production as compared to their compensation. There are no metrics that go into deciding this, outside of data to help show whether a player is good or not.

MOST OVERPAID

1. Tim Howard, GK, Colorado Rapids ($2,475,000)

Howard is paid vastly more than any other goalkeeper in the league — Brad Guzan is behind him at $740,000 — for production that does not come close to equalling his exorbitant salary.

The Rapids’ decision to vastly overpay Howard handcuffs them elsewhere. Damaging contracts to below-average players are a primary culprit for the current state of the team.

Goalkeepers, by nature of the position, are much easier to find at lower costs than other positions, like NFL running backs. There is no reason to pay one millions of dollars.

(Note: I did not include players like Shkelzen Gashi and Yura Movsisyan in the “overpaid” section because they do not technically play for Colorado and Real Salt Lake anymore, even though Gashi and Movsisyan most certainly are overpaid.)

2. Gyasi Zardes, FW, Columbus Crew ($1,471,667)

The Players’ Association has lowered the initial estimate of Zardes’s contract by about a million since they first posted the salaries, but the amount the Crew are paying Zardes remains noticeably high. It is hard to justify the striker’s status as a Designated Player.

The scoring was there last year, at 19 goals, but there is reason to believe that he will struggle to reach that mark again. Gregg Berhalter’s system assured that he would receive sufficient goal-scoring opportunities. Zardes’s xG+xA/96 has declined from 0.73 in 2018 to 0.47 in 2019. He touches the ball less than any player in the league, with the lowest touch percentage in MLS among field players two years running. Only goalkeeper Tyler Miller gets more touches this year.

Other forwards have similarly low possession numbers, but Zardes is unlikely to compensate with consistently high on-goal production. The decision from Crew president Tim Bezbatchenko to invest so heavily in Zardes was surprising.

3. Jorgen Skjelvik, CB, LA Galaxy ($1,066,667)

Skjelvik, a lumbering left-sided defender, is less damaging at left back than he is at center back. WhoScored rates him as having played left back in all 12 of his starts this season, a welcome departure from his frequent shifts in the middle last year.  

Still, Skjelvik is the second-highest paid defender in MLS, behind only the Dynamo’s Kiki Struna, who has been perfectly competent in his first MLS season. The Galaxy would probably be okay with ditching that deal.

4. Roland Lamah, MF, FC Cincinnati ($806,250)

Cincinnati selected Lamah in the expansion draft, a curious decision considering their reluctance to spend on high-caliber attackers (Kenny Saeif already appears to be gone, and Fanendo Adi has been predictably unproductive).

Lamah managed a cool 19 goals and nine assists in two seasons at FC Dallas, but provided little in the way of creativity or attacking production. He has a goal and two assists in 1,097 minutes this season for a dry FCC team.

5. Zoltan Stieber, MF, D.C. United ($787, 500)

Stieber, a 30-year-old Hungarian, has lost virtually all of his playing time this season. He’s appeared in eight of DCU’s games, but only started two of them, and has only played 235 minutes.

MOST UNDERPAID

1. Latif Blessing, MF, LAFC ($103,125)

Few could have foreseen Blessing’s sudden development into a top-tier MLS midfielder. Blessing covers ground and teleports to various spots on the field, combining with skillful attackers and hitting incisive passes.

Midfield partner Mark-Anthony Kaye ($177,811) could just as easily have taken this spot; it was a toss-up between Blessing and Kaye here. They both will find themselves discussing a big-money at some point in the near future.

2. Paxton Pomykal, MF, FC Dallas ($105,000)

As you’ll see, many of the underpaid players on this list (and in general) are American or American-developed. The best ones will be sold to Europe for big bucks eventually — Pomykal is on that pace — and other elite players will receive lucrative contract extensions, a la Aaron Long.

Pomykal’s breakout season as FC Dallas’s orchestrator comes on a salary similar those of backup goalkeepers Brad Stuver and Alec Kann. FCD have declined in the games since Pomykal left for the U-20 World Cup; they’ve missed Pomykal’s ball-movement and calm distribution. The 19-year-old looks as comfortable on the ball as any other American in the national team pool.

3. Julian Gressel, MF, Atlanta United ($133,000)

Gressel wears the armband for Atlanta and continues to do everything for them, playing every position and acting as an offensive and defensive fulcrum. He is among MLS’s best crossers of the ball. He could step into a top-tier European league and hold his own right now. That chance may very well come.

Pretty incredible value for a SuperDraft pick from Providence.

4. Reggie Cannon, RB, FC Dallas ($80,250)

It is hard to comprehend that Cannon, a high-level MLS right back who plays every week, is paid as low as $80,000 while players like Francisco Calvo are in the hundreds of thousands. The success of Cannon and Pomykal and all of the Homegrowns like them should inspire teams to focus on cultivating that level of low-cost talent.

5. Jackson Yueill, MF, San Jose Earthquakes ($190,000)

Yueill has taken responsibility as the Quakes’ midfield orchestrator and tempo-setter; he has an impressive understanding of how to move the ball effectively, and covers sufficient ground. It is no coincidence that the Quakes’ improvement this season coincided with Yueill’s insertion into the lineup.

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