Houston Dynamo v Chicago Fire - Knockout Round

More MLS salary talk: Three teams collecting bad deals

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Salary Day around Major League Soccer – let’s find a mainstream sports parallel. Because that’s how these things work, right? Some esoteric event with limited significance that winds up fans and sends them spinning on kitchen floors. The only way to convey its meaning is by looking to the big four. I know how this works.

Let see …It’s the 5×5 rotisserie draft, right? No, not quite right. The salaries are real. Fantasy leagues aren’t. How about the cover announcement for your given EA Sports franchise? Meh, way too far from the field. Really, it’s more like pitchers and catchers reporting, or final cut day for NFL rosters. It has some significance, but if we never heard one peep about it, our sporting lives would change … not at all.

Perhaps the best parallel is Schedule Day in the National Football League. Most of the information is known ahead of time – MLS’s deals either already leaked or carry over from the year before, while the NFL’s matchups are predetermined by a formula – but something about seeing all the details together sends fans buzzing like their favorite band just released another album (and since this is MLS, that album would either be Wilco’s or the dialog track from an Arrested Development rerun). The order of the games, Monday night slots, Thanksgiving assignments – they give football fans something to fill that offseason void. It’s the morning donut – fun, harmless, inconsequentially unless you overindulge.

For MLS fans, the players union’s release sparks a few hours of fervent social media analysis, where “Broncos play Cowboys on Thanksgiving” is replaced by “this sure looks different without Beckham and Marquez.” That Week 17 matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota? Where Adrian Peterson might be going for 2,105 and a playoff spot? That’s MLS fans and their value-for-money finds. “So Rafael Baca only makes $49,500 but Joel Lindpere’s still a $200,000 player?”

[MORE: Major League Soccer’s top earners]

He does, but in insolation, that’s mostly trivia. One good or bad signing isn’t going to break a salary cap, especially when the maximum most players can count against the salary cap is limited by the designated player rule. If, however, you start collecting a bunch of Baca-esque deals? They you’ve really got something. The dollar shaved here, shaved there give you the ability to take some chances, overpay for a project, or take on some players whose veteran rates no longer fit into others’ budgets. You don’t have to be Billy Beane to figure this out.

We’ll look at some of those situations later. Here I want to look at the other end of the spectrum – teams who have a number of deals which, while perhaps not bad in isolation (though there are some there), become problematic when they’re part of a greater pattern.

Some caveats here: Some of these deals might be Designated Player contracts, young designated players, Generation adidas, or another of an array of circumstances that means their full salaries may not count against the cap (or, are even being fully covered by their current team). Still, in a league were very few teams are making money, taking on even “off book” salaries can have a huge effect on a team’s ability to go out and acquire more talent.

[MORE: Some Major League Soccer bargains]

With that in mind, here are a few situations you’d like to see your team avoid:

(all salary figures reflect guaranteed compensation)

source:  Chicago Fire

  • Sherjill MacDonald, $527,125
  • Arne Friedrich, $367,500
  • Dily Duka, $273,000
  • Patrick Nyarko, $249,500
  • Joel Lindpere, $205,000
  • Logan Pause, $197,833.33

Also:

  • Alvaro Fernandez, on six-month loan in Qatar, $366,666.67

Again, in isolation, none of these deals are killers, but when you have six players making above-or-around $200,000 who aren’t giving equivalent production, that’s a symptom as much as it is a problem, especially since Duka and Lindpere were added this winter (as were Jeff Larentowicz and Maicon Santos, who combine to make just over $395,000).

Friedrich can’t stay healthy. Duka cost Chicago Dominic Oduro. Nyarko is immensely capable but has 12 goals in five-plus seasons. We have to start considering if Lindpere’s best days are permanently gone, while Pause was made redundant by the Fire’s offseason moves.

Between those six players, that’s just over $1.8 million in salaries. And Fernandez’s loan expires this summer.

source:  Colorado Rapids

  • Marvell Wynne, $285,000
  • Edson Buddle, $275,000
  • Drew Moor, $247,000
  • Pablo Mastroeni, $200,000
  • Atiba Harris, $173,275
  • Danny Mwanga, $171,250
  • Brian Mullan, $170,335

The four guys who were in Commerce City last year – Wynne, Moor, Mastroeni, and Mullan – are just kind of overpaid. Really, it’s not a big deal when you’re being shrew elsewhere. When you’re getting value lower down the list, you can be sentimental with your veterans – understood.

But Buddle? Harris? Mwanga? Colorado went out and got these guys this offseason. You can see the upside in each of them, but having combined for two goals through the Rapids’ first 10 games, you have to wonder if that $600,000 would have been better spent elsewhere.

Consider some of the other goal scorers that moved this offseason: Ryan Johnson ($144,705), Claudio Bieler ($200,000), Fabian Espindola ($150,000), Robert Earnshaw ($155,150). Buddle, Harris, and Mwanga, for similar money, were much less reliable options. Even Kenny Cooper ($342,500) could have been had for some of the money Colorado spent on their upgrades.

source:  D.C. United

  • Dejan Jakovic, $303,341
  • Rafael, $284,625
  • Brandon MacDonald, $273,250
  • Lionard Pajoy, $205,000
  • John Thorrington, $150,000
  • James Riley, $145,000

The disturbing part about this group is that they were all need signings, to one extent or another. On one hand, yeah, when a team needs somebody, of course the sign a new player, yet with this group, we see a tendency to overpay when addressing those needs. That’s a systemic problem.

A couple of years ago, D.C. United’s defense was terrible. They elected to keep an expensive Jakovic and acquire MacDonald. They now have one of the priciest central pairings in the league, even if few would call the duo one of the league’s best.

Pajoy and Rafael were brought in because D.C. United needed strikers, but each make more than Maicon Santos will earn from Chicago this year. Pajoy didn’t cut it in Philadelphia before being traded, and Rafael (a young designated player) had only scored one, circumstantially meaningless goal in Brazilian national league play (all of his production was in the quasi-competitive state league). Through 213 minutes in D.C., his only MLS tally came off a Andy Greunebaum misread.

Thorrington and Riley aren’t super expensive, but they fit the same pattern. D.C. has a need, they spend more than they probably needed to, and the upgrade isn’t obvious. Thorrington’s fitness concerns mean it’s too early to pass judgment on his acquisition, but did D.C. really need James Riley at $145,000 when they already had Chris Korb, Daniel Woolard, and Robbie Russell?

Report: AC Milan negotiating new deal for keeper Donnaumma

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly become one of the most coveted goalkeepers in the world, and he’s only 17 years old.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

And that’s why AC Milan plans on doing everything in its power to hold on to the Italy international.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s fall to Panama to begin CONCACAF Championship ]

According to CalcioMercato, the Rossoneri are preparing to lock up Donnarumma to a big deal once he turns 18 next week in order to fend off the likes of Premier League duo Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as Real Madrid.

However, agent Mino Raiola could stand in the way of Milan as they attempt to negotiate with the promising shot stopper out of fear that the club won’t be able to compete with Europe’s best teams.

Also, it has been suggested that Raiola is seeking at least $4.25 million per season for Donnarumma plus add ons, while Milan is said to be willing to go as high as $2.1 million annually.

Donnarumma is currently in his second professional season with Milan and has risen to the Italian national team level over the past year as well. The young keeper is seen as the logical successor to Gianluigi Buffon once his international career concludes.

Baggio marks 50th birthday by visiting quake victims

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged by Diego Lugano during the Interreligious Match For Peace at Olimpico Stadium on September 1, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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AMATRICE, Italy (AP) Italian great Roberto Baggio marked his 50th birthday on Saturday by visiting towns devastated by earthquakes last year.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Baggio opted not to celebrate his milestone surrounded by celebrities, and instead spent the day in Amatrice, which was almost wiped out by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

The former world footballer of the year, who met children and others from the central Italy region, said “it was very emotional,” and he went there with his family “to fully understand what so many people are going through.”

Baggio also met the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, and said they will remain in contact, “and we will try to do something concrete.”

Baggio was moving on to nearby Norcia, which was also damaged, and there was a party organized with a birthday cake.

The Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and left a further 4,000 homeless. There were aftershocks for several days as well as more quakes in October and January.

Baggio, who was nicknamed “Il Divin Codino” (The Divine Ponytail) for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career, scored 27 goals in 57 appearances for Italy and helped the Azzurri to third place in the 1990 World Cup and runner-up four years later, when he famously missed the last penalty kick of the shootout in the final with Brazil.

He won the Serie A title with Juventus in 1995 and with AC Milan the following year.

FA Cup preview: Spurs, Man United face Championship opposition

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United leaves the pitch with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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As the Premier League sides have dwindled down in this season’s FA Cup, two of England’s big boys will hope to avoid upsets on Sunday.

At the moment, six PL clubs remain in the competition after Chelsea and Middlesbrough advanced on Saturday and Manchester City was held to a draw against Huddersfield. Arsenal will meet non-league affiliated side Sutton United on Monday.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Fulham vs. Tottenham — 9 a.m. ET

While Spurs have come away victorious in five of their six FA Cup encounters against Fulham in the past, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will face a tough test on Sunday. Fulham is currently battling to stay in the race for promotion next season to re-join England’s top flight but the Craven Cottage side will have a legitimate chance to make some noise after knocking off Hull City and Cardiff in the past two rounds.

Meanwhile, Spurs will likely be without striker Harry Kane, who picked up an injury in Thursday’s defeat against Gent in the Europa League. Tottenham has struggled away from home as of late, having won just two of their last 14 fixtures away from White Hart Lane.

Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

The two sides haven’t met in the FA Cup since back in the 1980s, a win for Manchester United, and Sunday’s encounter likely won’t be much a walk in the park for Rovers. Blackburn is fighting for survival in the Championship, making their performance in the FA Cup all the more critical for morale over the second half of the season. However, key suspensions to both Hope Akpan and Elliott Bennett will leave Blackburn shorthanded.

Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils will be missing several key players as well, including Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, both of whom are injured. United has done well away from home recently, only falling once in its previous nine encounters away from Old Trafford.

Nice holds on to beat Lorient despite Balotelli’s red card

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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PARIS (AP) Nice striker Mario Balotelli has more red cards away from home than goals this season.

[ MORE: Marseille beats Rennes to stay in hunt for top four ]

The Italian has scored nine in the French league so far, but all have been at home. On Saturday he was sent off for the second time on his travels, and for the third time overall during his first campaign in France. However, despite his red card, Nice won at Lorient 1-0 to move up to second place behind Monaco.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

Balotelli returned to the side after missing last weekend’s action with a fever, but was shown a straight red following an altercation with Lorient defender Zargo Toure. From initial video replays, it seemed difficult to ascertain what Balotelli did wrong other than backing into Toure with his arms up as they challenged for a ball.

Nice coach Lucien Favre was no closer to an explanation after the game, although he suggested Balotelli may have spoken out of turn to referee Tony Chapron.

“I didn’t see what happened. All of a sudden he was coming off and I said to myself, `What’s happened?”‘ Favre said. “I didn’t see when he (the referee) gave the red card and I don’t know why. It seems that he talked back to the referee.”

Favre refuted any notion that Balotelli might be getting singled out unfairly by referees.

“He’s not on referees’ radars. They are totally neutral,” Favre said. “If there is reason to send a player off, then they will.”

Midfielder Wylan Cyprien scored his seventh in the league after being set up by right back Arnaud Souquet early on.

Nice is three points behind Monaco, and one point ahead of defending champion Paris Saint-Germain, which is at home to Toulouse on Sunday. Lorient is in last place.

MARSEILLE 2, RENNES 0

Marseille showed it can cope without top scorer Bafetimbi Gomis, as it maintained its push for a top-four finish and place in the Europa League next season.

Gomis has been Marseille’s best player, scoring 16 league goals, but injured a knee last weekend and is expected to be out for up to six weeks.

In his absence, wingers Clinton N'Jie and Florian Thauvin grabbed second-half goals as Marseille moved level on points with fifth-place Saint-Etienne and one point behind fourth-place Lyon. They are both playing on Sunday.

France playmaker Dimitri Payet went close three times – hitting the crossbar with a rasping shot – before starting the move that led to N’Jie’s goal in the second half.

Five minutes later, Thauvin scored a powerful swerving shot into the top corner from 20 meters after running onto a neat back heel from midfielder Morgan Sanson.

Inconsistent Marseille has won its last three home games but lost its last three away.

Next Sunday comes bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain, a must-win game in the eyes of the passionate Marseille fans at Stade Velodrome.

“We’re confident when we play at the Velodrome, but I’d like to us to do the same away from home,” Marseille left back Patrice Evra said.

OTHER ACTION

Mid-table Angers won 1-0 at home against Nancy, which is one place above the relegation zone.

Lille, down to 10 men, beat Caen 1-0 in Lille coach Franck Passi’s first match in charge. Attacking midfielder Anwar El Ghazi, who came from Ajax last month, struck shortly after Lille center half Adama Soumaoro was sent off.

Also, Metz drew with Nantes 1-1.

In Sunday’s other games, it is: Lyon vs Dijon, Montpellier vs. Saint-Etienne, and Bordeaux vs. Guingamp.