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The best (and worst) valued MLS players

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Sometimes it’s difficult to remember all the rules and regulations that Major League Soccer has implemented, particularly when it comes to TAM and GAM, but one area that has become more transparent over the years is player contracts, courtesy of the league’s Players Union.

The MLS PA once again released its list of contracts for every active player in the league, as well as several free agents, earlier this week, which made us think: which players are the best and worst values based on their current salaries?

Pro Soccer Talk took a deeper look at each team’s current crop of players, and picked the 10 best and 10 worst contracts.

So, here we go.

In the typical good-bad news situation we usually like to get the bad out of the way first, so that’s where we will start.


WORST CONTRACTS

LA Galaxy attacker Giovani dos Santos ($6 million)

To say that the El Tri forward hasn’t lived up to his billing in MLS is an understatement. His underperformance with the club can be overshadowed a bit by the production of players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini, but Dos Santos’ goal output since the end of 2016 has been at a bare minimum (eight goals).

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/defender Brek Shea ($745,000)

It’s fair to make the claim that Shea hasn’t lived up to the hype after leaving Dallas in 2012, and the fact that the Texas-native is currently the second-highest Whitecaps player speaks to that. Deployed primarily as a winger, Shea has scored just 10 goals since returning to MLS in 2015, and has completely fall out of the U.S. Men’s National Team picture.

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya ($1.2 million)

To put Bedoya’s contract into perspective, the USMNT midfielder earns more than Federico Higuain, Sacha Kljestan and Alberth Elis. It’s been a rocky road for the third-year Union player.

D.C. United’s Zoltan Stieber ($999,000)

The Hungarian has been underwhelming thus far in a D.C. kit despite being the club’s top-earning player. Two goals and two assists since last summer is one of the reasons why D.C. has struggled so mightily.

FC Dallas forward Cristian Colman ($585,000)

Dallas has lost several important players in the attack over the years, but the addition of Colman was supposed to ease the blow for the Western Conference power. Instead, the Paraguayan has three goals to show in 33 appearances for the club.

Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu ($719,000)

The former Bologna man has been underwhelming since joining the Impact, which hasn’t helped the team’s willingness to find a legitimate replacement for Didier Drogba.

Portland Timbers midfielder Lucas Melano ($1 million)

The Argentine player is currently in his native country on loan at Estudiantes, but still bringing in over $1 million. Since joining the Timbers in 2015, Melano has scored just four goals for the Western Conference side.

New York City FC forward Jo Inge Berget ($816,000)

This is another player who is early into their MLS career, but the early signs aren’t very promising for an NYCFC side that has desperately searched for a second front option for the instances when David Villa isn’t available. Berget thrived in Europe, but he has struggled to make an impact in the Bronx.

Real Salt Lake’s Alfredo Ortuno ($1.1 million)

In three appearances this season, Ortuno has zero goals and no shots to speak of. Mike Petke’s side hasn’t had good luck with forwards over recent years, and unless Ortuno picks up his form, it could be another Yura Movsisyan situation.

Colorado Rapids keeper Tim Howard ($2.4 million)

It’s not to say that Howard isn’t still a capable goalkeeper, which he is, but the Rapids severely overspent on a position where you simply don’t have to shell out that sort of money. Goalkeepers like Tim Melia, Luis Robles, Zach Steffen and Stefan Frei could have all four of their contracts combined, and still come up significantly short of Howard’s salary.


BEST CONTRACTS

Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron & Josef Martinez ($2.2 million, $1.3 million)

We’ll start off with a pair from the same team. It would be shocking if one, if not both, players end up in Europe in the very future, so the fact that these players aren’t even in the top 10 Designated Player salaries is a sign of some very good business from Atlanta. The duo have combined for 41 goals in less than two full seasons with the Five Stripes.

Sporting KC winger Johnny Russell ($699,000)

It’s been a small sample size, but Sporting KC has to be very, very happy with its addition of Russell this winter. Five goals and two assists for the former Derby County midfielder, Russell has brought another creative influence to Peter Vermes’ attack.

NY Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams & Aaron Long ($153,000, $73,000)

In a way, it’s almost unfair to pick just two players from the Red Bulls because manager Jesse Marsch and technical director Dennis Hamlett have done such a tremendous job building this roster. Adams and Long stand out though because of what they have done in controlling the center of the park. For Long, in particular, he’s quickly become one of the best central defenders in MLS, making Matt Miazga an afterthought for Red Bulls supporters.

Colorado Rapids forward Dominique Badji ($168,000)

It’s hard to imagine that Badji has been in MLS for four seasons already, but the Rapids striker has proven to be one of the few consistent attacking pieces for the club. After tallying nine goals in 2017, Badji is alright more than halfway to that total, and should shatter his personal best this season.

Vancouver Whitecaps winger Alphonso Davies ($72,000)

At 17, Davies has the makings of a special talent. The Canada international doesn’t light up the score sheet, but Davies is one of the most exciting wingers in MLS and is the type of player you want out wide to provide great service into the box. Any team would sign up for his contract in a heartbeat.

D.C. United’s Yamil Asad ($520,000)

Asad was often overshadowed in Atlanta last year due to the star power on that squad, and now he’s still a bit under appreciated because of D.C.’s lack of success, but make no mistake that he is one of the top wingers in MLS. D.C. did well to keep him in the U.S., but now Ben Olsen needs to go out and support Asad with more talented players.

Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis ($650,000)

The 22-year-old is on pace to break into double-digit goals for his second consecutive season in MLS, and is a natural fit to replace the departed Erick “Cubo’ Torres. Elis played a big role in the Dynamo making the playoffs last season, and he likely will be a driving force again in 2018 if Houston qualifies.

Los Angeles FC defender Laurent Ciman ($661,000)

It was a steal when the expansion side managed to pull him away from the Montreal Impact, and the league’s most consistent center back has proven to be worth every penny for Bob Bradley‘s side. LA FC has dazzled with its many exciting attacking pieces, but Ciman has held down the fort defensively.

Track record of Top League vets bodes well for Rooney in MLS

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Sometimes you start researching a post, only to have just a few clicks on a stats page end any misgivings about the other side of your argument.

[ MORE: JPW on Rooney move ]

Wayne Rooney looks set to make a move to DC United, which is predictably being met by three sets of rallying cries:

  1. MLS is a retirement league (false)
  2. He’s not going to be worth it (relative and debatable)
  3. DC would be better served spend its money on younger Player X “not everyone’s heard of”

There’s little doubt that the fine work of Atlanta United has inspired and invigorated teams to look younger. Better to sign those on the stairway to the elite, not the escalator away from it.

But how often has a top European league starter, let alone a 10-goal Premier League scorer, produced at MLS?

Spoiler alert: Almost always. And the “clear busts” are very hard to find.

Here are two things we’ve learned, when it comes to Rooney or any player coming from an intense season in a top league:

  1. There are usually good signs in the abbreviated first season, but the second year is where the best output occurs (logically due to the stress of going from one season to the next and the ensuing offseason of rest).
  2. These may’ve looked like moves to sell jerseys and spread their club names worldwide, and they surely accomplished that, but class is close to permanent.

First we have to define the sample size, and we’ll stay in recent seasons considering the league — and this is not up for debate — is better than ever.

[ MORE: Mourinho reacts to finishing 2nd ]

It’s still too soon to judge Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 17 goals for Manchester United in 2016-17 before missing most of this season.

We’ll also steer clear of Americans returning home, in part because that deserves its own post. Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, and Brad Guzan have met very different fates, but there are myriad components to their moves home.

Who does qualify? We look through traditional numbers and take a run through advanced stats site WhoScored.com to back us up.

Pre-S: For those who say, “but you listed some of the best names in modern soccer history,” … exactly.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Last team: Manchester United
MLS team: Chicago Fire
Age upon arrival: 32
Status report: Unqualified success; Chicago was on an entirely different level when Schweinsteiger was healthy, as the Fire went from also-ran to threatening a first-round bye in the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

David Villa

Last team: Atletico Madrid
MLS team: New York City FC
Age upon arrival: 33
Status report: One of the best players in MLS history. Don’t really need to write more, do I?

Giovani Dos Santos

Last team: Villarreal
MLS team: LA Galaxy
Age upon arrival: 26
Status report: Amazing start, but jury out; Dos Santos posted three goals and five assists in his first 10 MLS matches, then followed it up with a wonderful 14-goal, 12-assist performance in 2016. Last season was terrible, but the early returns make the deal worthwhile.

Kaka

Last team: AC Milan
MLS team: Orlando City
Age upon arrival: 32
Status report: Unqualified success; Twenty-four goals and 19 assists in three seasons with a brand new MLS club. That is not bad. His second of three seasons here was marvelous.

Sebastian Giovinco

Last team: Juventus
New team: Toronto FC
Age upon arrival: 28
Status report: One of the best players in MLS history. Next.

Andrea Pirlo

Last team: Juventus
MLS team: New York City FC
Age upon arrival: 36
Status report: Disappointment, but not as bad you recall; Pirlo had a bad ending at NYCFC, as his legs and waning passion caught up to him, but his first two seasons were good offensively, including an 11-assist campaign in 2016. He was 10th in key passes that season.

Steven Gerrard

Last team: Liverpool
MLS team: LA Galaxy
Age upon arrival: 35
Status report: Slow start, but a success; Gerrard was fine in his first half-season, but really shone when available as a sophomore. The Liverpool legend scored three goals and added 11 assists in 21 games; Only Sacha Kljestan recorded a better assist-per-90 minute ratio in MLS that season, and he was the 20th rated player in MLS by WhoScored.

Frank Lampard

Last team: Manchester City
New team: New York City FC
Age upon arrival: 37
Status report: Slow start, but a success; “Lamps” came to MLS at 37 after a long PL season, and fought injuries. But despite his age, Lampard scored 12 goals in 19 matches as a midfielder during his second season. Villa, Pirlo, and Lampard ranked 1, 4, and 5 on NYCFC’s performance score in 2016.

Ashley Cole

Last team: Roma
New team: LA Galaxy
Age upon arrival: 35
Status report: Just okay; Considering that his signing seemed a laugh to the majority of fans (everywhere), his consistent appearances with a poor LA defense move this above considerably above “bust” status.

McKennie, Adams, Miazga in top tier of US Soccer player pool

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CHESTER, Pa. (AP) Midfielders Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams have played their way onto the top tier of the U.S. player pool along with defender Matt Miazga, according to interim coach Dave Sarachan, who says the trio would receive strong consideration for a World Cup roster if the Americans were headed to Russia in June.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

With the U.S. rebuilding following its failure to qualify for the tournament, Sarachan will continue to rely on youth for upcoming exhibitions against Bolivia, Ireland and France.

Veterans such as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley could have a role either in friendlies this autumn or when competitive matches resume in the summer of 2019.

“I do think those guys, some of them, will factor in, in terms of the Gold Cup, in terms of the next round of qualifying,” Sarachan said Wednesday. “I think it would be important to bring some of those veterans guys back.”

Dempsey, who turned 35 last month, is tied with Landon Donovan for the U.S. record of 57 international goals.

“The older guys, they’re valuable in the succession of everything, to mentor, to show these young guys what it really takes and what it is to be a part of the national team,” Sarachan said. “But as far as that goes, you know, sometimes a tie is all right, right? Share the spoils.”

Christian Pulisic, the Americans’ 19-year-old star midfielder, will be on the roster for the May 28 match against Bolivia in the Philadelphia suburbs. Pulisic, who is from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has not played for the national team since the 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October that eliminated the U.S. from World Cup contention.

While U.S. training starts May 21, Pulisic will report late so he can remain with Borussia Dortmund for a postseason exhibition at LAFC on May 22.

“He was pretty gutted after that game,” Sarachan said of the loss in Trinidad. “There’s a lot of demands of a guy like Christian. He’s being pulled in a lot of different directions. There’s still some speculation – this didn’t come from him directly – but I know that there’s some speculation that maybe he’ll move from Dortmund. So I know there’s a lot going on. And I’m trying to be helpful in the process to allow him a little wiggle room in terms of the national team now.”

Josh Sargent, the 18-year-old forward who joined Werder Bremen this year, also will be on the roster. The U.S. plays at Ireland on June 2 and at France on June 9, and Sarachan said many Europe-based players may skip the Bolivia match.

Sarachan was the top assistant to Bruce Arena, who quit after the U.S. failed to qualify. Sarachan would like to be considered for the job going forward, but new U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro plans to first hire a general manager for the men’s national team, a new position.

“I would only be guessing at this point if it’s someone in place before or after the World Cup,” Sarachan said of the GM.

The 63-year-old Sarachan coached Cornell from 1988-97 and the Chicago Fire from 2002-07. He does not consider himself to be an interim coach.

“I don’t like that term personally. I hate using the word interim,” he said. “I’m the men’s national soccer coach until they tell me I’m not. I’m not naive to think that I’m a slam-dunk candidate or not. I try not to even think through that other than at some point I have to figure out my next move if it’s not going to be this.”

Since World Cup elimination, the U.S. has played a road draw at Portugal and home ties against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Paraguay. Sarachan has given national team debuts to nine players, including Adams, McKennie, defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, forward Andrija Novakovich and midfielder Tim Weah – son of former FIFA Player of the Year and current Liberia President George Weah.

“I feel since November, when you could arguably say it was rock bottom in terms of U.S. soccer and the perception of it, I’d like to think that there’s a little more hope, a little more hope with the program, the direction we’re going, with the exciting young talent that’s emerging,” he said. “And that makes me feel proud, because I think the work kind of speaks for itself at this point, meaning young guys are getting great minutes.”

MLS roundup: ATL roll past Galaxy; RSL survive 10-man Rapids

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from around MLS…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta UnitedFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Two teams with fantastic attacking talent but very little in terms of a strong, controlling midfield presence — you’d expect a game like that to be wide open with plenty of chances at both ends of the field, and you’d have been right about Atlanta’s 2-0 victory over LA (at least for the opening 45 minutes. The stark difference between the two sides on Saturday? Atlanta’s ability to turn shooting chances into scoring chances, and LA’s inability to do so.

In truth, the chance resulting in the Five Stripes’ opening goal, which also turned out to be the winner, was the scrappiest once of the bunch.

Miguel Almiron was sensational on the night — constantly on the ball in dangerous areas, constantly gliding past one and two white shirts, constantly winning free kicks (and a penalty) in those dangerous areas. Since suffering a 4-0 defeat on opening day, Tata Martino’s side is unbeaten in their last six games (five wins) and moved to within a point of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading New York City FC.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rendered completely ineffective and he — dare I say it — was little more than a passenger for the vast majority of Saturday’s game. Jonathan dos Santos picked up an injury during warmups, forcing Baggio Husidic into the starting lineup, and that did LA no favors when it came time to slow Atlanta’s momentum through the center of the field (which was the entire game).

Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England RevolutionFULL HIGHLIGHTS

If you had New England sitting above Columbus in the standings at any point this season, let alone after eight weeks, please proceed to the cash-out window immediately. Brad Friedel‘s bunch has played some pretty passable, if unexciting, soccer thus far and have picked up points in five of their seven games played. They’ve even won four points from their first three games away from home, which is two-thirds of the way to matching last season’s paltry haul of six.

Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Columbus saw the Revs come from behind twice to secure a well-earned and deserved point. Cristian Penilla has flown under the radar with regard to impact signings of the offseason — the Ecuadorian has two goals, including the stoppage-time equalizer on Saturday, and four assists in his first seven MLS games — and Diego Fagundez appears to have finally been handed the keys to the Revs’ attack with Lee Nguyen banished to the periphery (but still not traded away).

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado RapidsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Tim Howard was sent off after 20 minutes for handling the ball outside his penalty area — how great is that multi-million-dollar contract looking now? — yet Colorado so nearly held on for an away point against their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals. Alas, RSL scored three times in the final eight minutes of regular and stoppage time, helping the final score to match the lopsided nature of the preceding 60 minutes:

29 shots (10 on target), compared to just 12 (o on target) for Colorado; nearly 71 percent of possession; 571 passes, to just 228. The lopsidedness goes on and on.

Albert Rusnak scored a stunning free kick to complete the scoring, but was still upstaged by Damir Kreilach’s first MLS goal which came just three minutes earlier.

RSL have alternated wins and losses in each of their last six times out, which spells bad news for a suddenly important Friday night trip to Vancouver to face a Whitecaps side that 1) they beat at home earlier this month, and 2) has lost three straight, by a combined score of 10-1.

Elsewhere in MLS

Sporting KC 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union

MLS wrap: Friedel, Vancouver in focus; More Zlatan thoughts

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We’re fairly positive you heard at least one Major League Soccer score from this weekend.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic took his status as a living legend to our shores, and came off the bench to make an instant impact on debut in the LA Galaxy’s thrilling 4-3 win over LAFC on Saturday.

[ MORE: Arsenal beats Stoke ]

Ibrahimovic scored a wild shot off a bounce from almost 40 yards before heading in the winner as the Galaxy rallied back from a 3-0 deficit in the first “El Trafico.”

“I saw the goalkeeper he was out and I said I will shoot it over, but it was all depending how do I shoot, do I shoot high or in front to put power on it,” Ibrahimovic said. “I chose the power way and it went in. Then the adrenaline starts, you start, and you don’t want it to finish. You take off your shirt and you just want to celebrate with the fans. You want to feel the energy that is going through the stadium. If I would have more strength, I would have run all over the pitch, but I just managed one side of the field.”

A couple other thoughts on the game, and Zlatan:

— The next time someone tells you that MLS, or any league brand, needs players more than names, ask yourself if the league would be better served if Saturday’s meter would have moved with “random 20-year-old South American or European prospects” had the same performances as Carlos Vela and Ibrahimovic. If you said yes, well, enjoy making “Use Your Illusion III.”

Bob Bradley, likely the most impressive American-born manager in history, has had enough of Zlatan. The LAFC boss oversaw Saturday’s come-from-ahead loss as well as a 3-1 loss to Manchester United as Swansea boss which included a brace from the Big Swede. Four goals in about 113 minutes. Woof.

— In our rush to call it the “best game in MLS history,” please don’t forget David Beckham’s first start, which finished three goals off his set pieces and markers from a 17-year-old Jozy Altidore in addition to Landon Donovan, a bullet from Clint Mathis, Edson Buddle, and Juan Pablo Angel:

Some other things we learned on Saturday (and Friday).

— Toronto is going to be fine. The Reds have a huge CONCACAF Champions League match looming at midweek, and still battered Real Salt Lake 3-1 at BMO Field. Of course they should usually handle their business, like most good MLS teams, when a team travels across a continent as they did Friday. But off an 0-2 league start, surely seeing two goals from Jozy Altidore — and 12 combined shots from the USMNT striker and Sebastian Giovinco — feels good.

— The only match Brad Friedel has lost as New England Revolution boss was his opener, and that saw the Revs go two men down. If Friedel and I were friends, I’d like to think I’d call him “Frieds.”

“Frieds,” I’d say, “Looks like I was wrong about you being able to find the talent in that bunch and do well as a first year manager.”

That’s because New England is now 2-1-1 after beating Houston 2-0, albeit up a man for most of the match. Keep an eye on a manager the league would love to trumpet with more success.

— Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls staged a 4-3 wonder in Florida, but you can be happy you weren’t watching live to see the officials send soccer back 20 years by not calling Dom Dwyer for his rugby style stiff arm of Luis Robles in scoring off a corner. You have to feel for the video editor here, because the below highlight is state-run TV level funny. Imagine trying to build a lifelong fan out of someone who’s watched any other high level soccer in his life when this happens to their team:

— There’s a reason Carl Robinson is still in charge over in British Columbia, and the Vancouver Whitecaps‘ 2-1 win in Columbus show just why. The Crew are a tight, thriving unit, but Robinson’s men didn’t flinch when Gyasi Zardes put them down a goal. Well-utilized Brek Shea continued a productive start to the season with an equalizer, and Federico Higuain’s old pal Kei Kamara gave the ‘Caps all three points level with Sporting KC for first in the West.

— Speaking of Sporting, KC scored a third minute goal and a welcomed clean sheet in moving to 3-1-1 with a win over Ben Olsen’s DC United. Goal scorer Felipe Gutierrez might be the league’s top performer over the first month of the season. After failing to score in KC’s season-opening loss, he has five goals in five games.

— It was another big name veteran who starred for Chicago Fire and kept Gio Savarese from a win as Portland Timbers manager. Bastian Schweinsteiger set-up goals from Nemanja Nikolic and Brandon Vincent in a 2-2 tie at Toyota Park in Illinois.

— No snow globe this time around, and no real goals in Atlanta United‘s win at Minnesota United. An own goal hurts, but the Loons are looking much better in Year Two of MLS.

— It’s going to take San Jose some time to become a consistent side under Mikael Stahre, with a number of new pieces playing a new system, but there’s some encouragement in scoring early and sticking with dangerous NYCFC before falling 2-1. Most importantly, and we’ve said this before, Stahre has unleashed Valeri Qazaishvili, who recorded seven more shots as the West Coast, younger, poor man’s Sebastian Giovinco.

— Colorado Rapids handled their business again under head coach Anthony Hudson, with Dominique Badji bagging a hat trick in a 3-0 win over visiting Philadelphia. Tim Howard made four saves for the Rapids, who were outshot at home to spite the score line.

— Three games, three red cards for Seattle. This one helped them lose 1-0 to a Jeisson Vargas goal in Montreal.