A look at MLS’ best and worst values

JohnMarquez (Getty Images)

When the MLS Players Union released its list of player salaries on Friday, there were plenty of names next to number figures that caused some eyebrows to raise and jaws to drop. There are the productive players who would appear to be grossly underpaid like Red Bulls rookie Ryan Meara ($33,750), FC Dallas defender George John ($47,250) and Chicago Fire playmaker Sebastian Grazzini ($50,400) on one end of the spectrum, and then those not exactly pulling their weight like Toronto FC defenders Richard Eckerlsey ($390,000) and Miguel Aceval ($199,086) on the other.

The salary list yields opportunity for endless analysis regarding which teams are most creative with their cap space, and which could be a bit more prudent in their spending. Fox Soccer explored one of those possibilities by taking a look at the Best XI and Worst XI in terms of teams getting returns on their investments.

Give the story a read and let us know what you think. Who would make your Best and Worst MLS Salary XIs? Which players are outperforming their salaries? Which ones could be doing a bit more to justify their price tag?

Share your thoughts below.

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58 Responses to A look at MLS’ best and worst values

  1. timmytwoshoezzz says:

    Lee Nguyen making 50k a year? No wonder he went to play in Vietnam. Some of these salaries are incredibly low, they could probably qualify for food stamps

  2. Stan says:

    “Johansson has had a rough start for the Sounders, and has lost minutes to Chad Scott because of it, but we shouldn’t write him off just yet.”

    Chad Scott…

  3. etj2 says:

    Just so you know, the Sounders do not have a player named “chad scott” and the Swede has not been playing because he has been HURT.

  4. Dillon says:

    Marquez should be a worst value.

  5. wow says:

    who the f#$% payed barrett that much?? unbelievable. j bornstein could play striker better than him

  6. Yellow Submarine says:


  7. Yellow Submarine says:

    *Insert any name on the roster of TFC*

  8. ArsenFan says:

    I don’t see how Rafa Marquez is not on the list of lowest ROI for midfielders.
    Even if he were making 600k I would consider him a bad investment, but at 4.5m he surpasses all others

  9. downintexas says:

    I think he was making a cool million in Vietnam. Wow!

  10. Gnarls says:

    Hate the Sounders, but David Estrada might be the best deal in all of MLS.

  11. Neruda says:

    Great article SL Trib about this topic of MLS pay

    link to sltrib.com

    I also kept on looking for Marquez name on the worst list. Also if we are talking about this year wouldn’t Robbie Keane be one of the two most overpaid forwards in the league. He has a few goals this year but he’s making way too much for a few goals.

  12. Tweaked says:

    Yeah I’m sure most 25 year olds would turn down a $50,000 a year job where you work 10 months out of the year, practice a couple hours a day, and get flown around the country to play soccer.

  13. JRP says:

    Why don’t we have an article discussing the league’s salary cap system that needs an overhaul and the consequences of the league’s decision to have three DPs but allow some players to make only $30,000? Clearly NY can pay Meara more. This is a crime. You can’t live on $30,000 in NYC. If we want the league to improve, we need to have more players making $200,000 a year, fewer making millions and none making $30,000. The salary cap as it presently stands is the biggest problem to improving the quality of soccer in the MLS.

  14. JRP says:

    Ahem. Ives wrote it. He is a NYRB fan and, like all sport fans, a homer. I am too.

  15. Older & Wiser says:

    This is obviously the first part of a two part piece, with the entire second part being devoted to Rafa Marquez and how he sets an entirely new standard for worst return on investment. I think the Red Bulls would actually be better off if they just cut him and took whatever financial hit they had to. Whatever Brandon Barklage is making, quintuple it and you’d still have substantially better value than Marquez affords.

  16. Roberto says:

    Oswaldo Minda at Chivas at 68,750? if that is not a value to be in the article than I dont know what is.. the guy is a beast and important for natl team.

  17. Charles says:


    It is Zach Scott, not Chad Scott.

    Oh, another mistake….you should write off Johansson, he is no Riley.

  18. JRP says:

    Clearly he was worth more. If the MLS wants to compete they need to be able to pay talented players to play. Age is not meaningful in this conversation.

  19. Tweaked says:

    He signed the contract…if he is clearly worth more than it would seem that MLS did some good business on this one.

  20. Hincha Tim says:

    I would say at $44k, Johnny Steele is a “steal” for RSL. I think he is turning into a real find for them.

  21. JRP says:

    What is your goal for the league? Mine is to play a higher quality level of the game I love. Losing talent like him is bad for the league. I am not trying to get into a tit for tat with you. Yes, he signed the contract. Clearly he was worth more. He is now getting it. I would rather see him building the MLS league than a league in Vietnam.

  22. KevDC says:

    That is a dramatic oversimplification, though I agree that $30K for first division soccer player is almost criminal. The salary cap is proportional to revenues (tickets+TV+merch). As the latter increases so will the salaries. A handful of million dollar stars helps with media coverage. Even the Beckham haters would have trouble arguing that he hasn’t raised the profile of the league.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with the notion that higher salaries will result in higher quality football, but in general the suits in MLS HQ have shown competence at growing the sport in the US with smart fiscal responsibility. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

  23. Tweaked says:

    MLS should pay what they think the market value is for a player. Sometimes MLS gets it right, sometimes they don’t. I’m just saying it would appear that the current market value for Nguyen is around $50,000. One would hope his agent talked to a bunch of teams in different leagues and then decided that signing a contract with MLS at that price was best for Nguyen. If that was bad advice then Nguyen should fire his agent.

  24. timmytwoshoezzz says:

    Most 25 year olds would turn down a 50k a year deal if they could make 100k elsewhere, which is what Nguyen did. It is also what more and more young people are doing by going to play in the German 2 or 3 Bundesliga, Sweden, or other European league. If we want our young players to stay here and grow the game in America, then we are going to have to pay them more than 40-50k per year to do it

  25. Don says:

    How about most overpayed and underpayed coaches? Might do the same for General Managers.

  26. JRP says:

    Of course it is an oversimplification. It is a comment to a blog post. But why can’t someone write about, or critique, in a meaningful way the current system. The league is growing and the MLS managers have done some great things. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do more.
    If history has taught us anything it is that just because we won the last war doesn’t mean we will win the next.
    Why is tweaking they system or even discussing a tweak of the system out of the question?
    You can give them the benefit of the doubt. I will doubt and look for ways to improve the league. 3 DPs was a mistake. It hasn’t helped a single team. It is a waste of money.
    And I do disagree that higher salaries will result in higher quality football. I believe higher salary averages will result in better play. That is my point.
    As to your point of Beckerman. I love those BK commercials and H&M commercials. So classy. Really raised the level of my eyebrows. That is it. Go Galaxy. To Chapter 11.

  27. Seriously says:

    Well said.

  28. JRP says:

    Great point. I think the difference is they don’t have to disclose coach pay. I may be wrong.

  29. JRP says:

    Really? I would love to see a team be able to pay $300,000 per starter per year. But the cap stops that from being a reality. You can have three DPs making Three times that much and that is OK. But one team spending $3.3 mill a year on starters is out of the question. Dumb system.

  30. JRP says:

    He isn’t in the league anymore. Do you know this?

  31. Tweaked says:

    But he didn’t turn down the $50,000 contract (which he signed in Dec. 2011). In this particularly case MLS has an up and coming player heading into the prime of his career…and Nguyen, at some level, must be ok with the deal, or he wouldn’t have signed the contract. If he continues to do well then down the road he will have an opportunity to sign a new contract and he/his agents and MLS will have an oppotunity to negoitiate new terms. soooo what’s the problem?

  32. JRP says:

    My bad.

  33. JRP says:

    No problem. Let him play for $50,000 for as long as he wants and build a club and the league while we pay other idiots with less talent much more money. It just sucks. That is all.

  34. Gnarls says:

    “3 DPs was a mistake. It hasn’t helped a single team.”
    It’s helped the entire league, actually. Look at attendance numbers prior to 2007 to see why.

    “As to your point of Beckerman [sic]. I love those BK commercials and H&M commercials. So classy.”
    Thanks to Beckham, the Galaxy is a globally recognized brand. Believe it or not, people outside the US know about LA and NYRB because of their DPs.

  35. JRP says:

    How many points is LA getting recognized for? And my point still stands. No team has benefited from 3 DPs. Stick with two and you have a point.
    You know what teams people know about in Mexico? RSL, LA and the Sounders and other decent teams that have played well against them in Champions League. Good play develops a league. Big salaries doe not. Look at the stats of the teams with the highest payroll. Look at the history in the league of the teams with the highest payroll. It is not a pretty picture. NYRB were the joke last year. This year it is LA and Toronto. Beckham’s commercials don’t even recognize him as a soccer player. They aren’t selling the sport. They are selling a pretty face. Two DPs and your point has some validity. Three hasn’t worked? Beckham was not the 3rd DP in LA. Who was? Exactly. Keane.

  36. Evan says:

    Porfirio López is making more than the Farfan twins combined. /sigh

  37. primoone says:

    Great look at Boss for carolina…very technical player… Lagalaxy.com

  38. Mike Ufford says:

    To think that Junior Lopez and George John are on about the same salary makes me quite disappointed as a Galaxy fan.

    Bruce could have offloaded expensive bench players like Barrett or Cristman for allocation money and picked up George John at double to triple the salary and it still would have been a bargain.

  39. prredicto says:

    Based on soccer performance (not advertising value), anybody making over $1 million per year is a bust. Maybe it’s $500k? If you can get the skills & production for less than $100k per player, why pay more?

    The whole advertising value thing must cause the $50k guys no end of heartburn.

  40. Juan says:

    How could Beckham not be a worst value? He’s good but not worth what he’s pulling down

  41. JRP says:

    Exactly. But the problem is the salary cap won’t allow a team to build a team with 6 guys making $500,000 but will let you pay one guy 5 million. It is a stupid system. The gates as they are set are stupid. I am not saying open the flood gates. What I am saying is lets tweak them to build the league with more than underwear models. Let’s build it with good, solid soccer players.

  42. DCUPedro says:

    Does anyone seriously think that LA Galaxy, AEG, and/or MLS is losing money on the Beckham deal? To call him over- valued is absurd. We’re trying to grow a league here. Of course salaries aren’t going to be directly proportional on some Alison scale to on-field value. When has it ever worke that way in any field? You don’t think GE could find someone to do Geoffrey Immelt’s job 80 percent as well for a third of the compensation? This is how the world works. People pay for superstars. They have a premium beyond meritocratic value.

    All these over-valued/under-valued lists are good for is a comparison of relative form to potential. You could do this for any sports league. Jason Werth last year for the nationals, for example. It’s easy to look at guys who are slumping that are high paid and call them a waste, but that is the value they commanded at the time of contract. Similarly, Ryan Meara has two months of MLS experience. If he keeps playing well, his value will increase in his next contract. It all evens out.

    None of this explains Chad Barrett making 250k a year though. That’s a legit critique.

  43. DCUPedro says:

    Not really sure how iOS got “Alison Scale” from “Sliding scale”, but suffice it to say that Steve Jobs’ high salary failed to prevent that intuitive mistake. Please excuse any other errors.

  44. DCUPedro says:

    Kev, most soccer fans in America would have creamed their jeans 20 years ago, in veritable disbelief that America could ever have a soccer league of the nature of today’s MLS.

    But you’ll always have haters saying that the guys who built it (when EVERYONE else who tried failed) have no idea what they are doing, and they would obviously do a better job by just lifting the cap, putting in pro/rel, eliminating the playoffs, moving to the international calendar, etc. I’m not saying that we should never criticize MLS HQ, but damn, give these guys some credit. They have shown a remarkable amount of discipline on their core assumptions about the soccer market in this country while also showing a ton of flexibility in adapting to new realities. The default supporters’ pose is cynicism towards management and authority, but just look what they built in less than two decades. It is remarkable.

  45. fenel1 says:

    shoot! no wonder mls players want to leave as soon as they have the chance. these salaries are ridiculous.

  46. timmytwoshoezzz says:

    The problem is that guys like Josh Gatt, Marc Pelosi, Joe Gyau, and the multitude of others we have seen in the last few years will continue to move overseas because if they stay here they have to sign 4-5 year deals that pay them the equivalent of a first grade school teacher. Personally, I would ratehr pay Gyau, Boyd, and Nguyen 150-200k and see them play than some old dude like those listed in the article. Get it?

  47. Don says:

    That’s how you tell the difference between management, owners and players.

  48. Jim says:

    Jorge Perlaza of Portland at $115k/year should be a worst value. He should probably be paying the Timbers to be on their roster.

  49. Neruda says:

    Beckham no but Keane is another story. He’s a big name brought for goals and nothing to do with marketing concerns. This year he’s not earning his salary. Barrett at 250k is bad enough to put arena on the hot seat. Talk about a bloated striker pool salaries!

  50. Mace says:

    A team like LA could get prized talent from other countries for peanuts, but they continue to go this route. Arena and his staff are lazy.

  51. Fred says:

    Because NY plays well when he is on the field

  52. Jake says:

    NY made to the semifinals and lost a tough game to LA…You posters sound like teabaggers

  53. Juve says:

    and avery good player if Nowak ever lets him get adjusted to the league

  54. Borneo says:

    Throw in Noonan also….another washed up waste of space

  55. Gazza says:

    JRP said: “But the problem is the salary cap won’t allow a team to build a team with 6 guys making $500,000″

    This is totally false. You should read the MLS Salary BUDGET rules again.

  56. Shane says:

    Agree with the others who are surprised no mention of Rafa as a worst value – I mean that is pretty generally accepted. Also, as far as Sarkodie being a worst value, isnt he on a Generation Adidas contract so his salary doesnt go against the salary cap and Adidas pays some of it?

  57. oscarinfw says:

    George John is not signing any multiyear contract with an MLS team. He has his sights set on overseas contract as a FA. No nonsense with exorbitant MLS transfer fees to deal with. He is taking a hit this year for the promise of more money in Europe somewhere…

  58. bryan says:

    it’s ridiculous how little some of these professional players make.