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Nothing Compares To You
I often see people making statements that MLS compares to the top end of the Sky Bet Championship or the lower half of the Barclays Premier League. It never really received much more thought than that the styles and infrastructures are entirely different, but a comment on Facebook compelled me to consider the merits of these comparisons.
The comment in question, was that Derby County would be in the upper echelons of MLS. Everyone talks about how MLS would cope in England, but I rarely see it posed the other way. Sure, Derby have some history. Brian Clough brought them their two Football League championships in the 1970s in the midst of a war with Leeds boss, Don Revie. Clough’s appointments at Elland Road and Nottingham Forest brought two high-profile rivalries to the Baseball Ground. They were also the first post-war winners of the FA Cup and had some impressive names over the years. Of course, history doesn’t win titles as most Liverpool fans have been reminded by rival supporters.
The worst part about people trying to rank MLS teams within the English pyramid, is the manner in which the roster rules fail to translate. If Liverpool sell Luis Suárez they, firstly keep the entire transfer fee, and know that they can divide up his £200,000 p/w any way they want or spend whatever other money they have. I wished to apply the MLS roster rules and really see how Derby and FC Dallas compare pound-for-pound. Unfortunately, where Derby have been making changes to improve on finishing third last season, I’ve been unable to find any solid figures for the purpose of this comparison. I chose to look at Crystal Palace as a club of similar stature – a few years staving off relegation in the Premier League, mainly top half of the Championship.
There is an enormous disclaimer to start this comparison. Crystal Palace have just one player in their first team squad that comes in under the MLS salary cap rule, that any non-DP may have a base salary that does not exceed $385,000 per year. Second choice goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, had a base salary of $334,535 in 2013/14. Also, I’ve counted young reserve team players that played in the Palace youth setup, and have been issued a squad number, as home-grown players. Where these are 2013/14 figures, some players have earned more such as Julián Speroni’s new contract, and others have earned less e.g. Scott Dann, who had taken a pay cut to leave Blackburn Rovers.
The first thing to do was pick out three designated players for Crystal Palace, who would only count $385,000 against their ‘cap space’, or young designated players counting $150k-200k. Scott Dann, Jerome Thomas and Dwight Gayle are the club’s three highest earners and so are the natural choice. Dann earned $2,263,921 in his final season at Blackburn. Ex-Arsenal winger, Thomas, earned $1,427,270 and the Eagles’ young star, Gayle, picked up $1,607,626. To put that in to context, only seven players (Bradley, Dempsey, Defoe, Cahill, Henry, Donovan, Keane) earn more than Scott Dann did as a Championship player. Obafemi Martins and Marco Di Vaio earn similar amounts to Thomas and Gayle as the 8th and 9th highest paid players in Major League Soccer. FC Dallas opted to field three YDPs for 2104, with Mauro Díaz ($325,000), David Texeira ($338,000) and Andrés Escobar ($625,000). Transfer fees for Texeira and Díaz cause them to be designated players.
The next step is to determine international roster spots. MLS teams start a season with eight spots to be filled by anyone but Americans or green-card holders. Canadian teams can consider Americans or Canadians as their domestic signings. Given that one is a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I classed those as the domestic boundaries with the Republic of Ireland requiring international roster spots. Doing this meant that Crystal Palace came in at nine international players – Speroni, Paddy McCarthy, Yannick Bolasie, Owen Garvan, Mile Jedinak, Damien Delaney, Adlène Guedioura, José Campaña and Jimmy Kébé. McCarthy was the unlucky loser as his transfer value from transfermarkt.com ($1,510,097) was the joint lowest among international players with Kébé and Delaney. I felt that McCarthy offered far less value than Kébé, and Delaney is paid 10% less than 31-year-old McCarthy.
FC Dallas traded for an extra international roster spot at the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, with their spots taken by Raúl Fernández, Blas Pérez, Peter Luccin, David Texeira, Mauro Díaz, Fabián Castillo, Je-Vaughn Watson, Michel and Andrés Escobar. Hendry Thomas, Adam Moffatt and Jair Benitez all have green cards. In theory, Crystal Palace could have traded theoretical allocation money for an extra international spot, although this would have an effect later give the squad size.
The final consideration is where, in the 30-man roster, each player goes. Of the list, numbers 1-20 counts against the cap, 21-30 do not. 21-30 must include all Generation adidas and home-grown players, and cannot include DPs, so there’s no real way to shift a lot off the cap. The details for each team are not public knowledge, so I’ve taken a slight guess at FC Dallas.
Crystal Palace have a 35-man squad, with the already cut Paddy McCarthy, so I’ve had to cut a further four players. Sullay Kaikai, Reise Allassani and Jerome Williams, three of the ‘home growns’ for the Eagles were left out for this purpose, along with fifth-choice goalkeeper, David Gregory. The make-up of the rosters are illustrated in a Tableau visualisation below. This was the first time I’ve used Tableau, so apologies for the basic nature of it. Also, I’d wish to thank Steve Fenn of Stathunting.com, A Tableau-God, for his advice.
Comparing these squads, from the numbers given, is a little bit like apples and oranges. It certainly has little relevance to the quality of a player. I had mentioned transfermarkt.com as a reference for player valuations. They are somewhat wide of the mark on MLS players, notably valuing Richard Sanchez at $100,000 just a week or so after he completed his move to Tigres UNAL for ten times that amount. Matt Hedges is another $100k player, despite the fact that he is considered on the fringes of the US national team and one of MLS’ top centre halves this year, so I appreciate the difficulty in correctly valuing players within MLS. By their standards, the mean value of a Crystal Palace player is $2,852,369 with FC Dallas coming in at $509,790. At the same time, the total wage bill is $23,177,053 to FC Dallas’ $4.075,404. Even with under-inflated transfer values at Toyota Stadium, when you consider the theoretic profit from the sales of every player after a year’s salary, the figures of the two are very close. For Crystal Palace, every dollar spent in salary would make $3.80 back in transfer fees, whereas FC Dallas would reap 3.63 for every dollar spent.
In numbering the FC Dallas roster and accounting for their YDP cap-hits, I’ve taken the liberty of guessing the players eligible to effect the salary cap and not taken into account any potential paying down of the $600,000 that accounts for the three designated players. As such, my figures left FC Dallas with one roster spot and $206,425 remaining. Crystal Palace were at capacity and had overspent by $12,662,190. To put it simply, the total expenditure on player salaries at Selhurst Park was six times the amount of FC Dallas, so do you make a straight player-by-player comparison or do you account the strength and depth of the team against the value. England is an inflated market where even the lowest paid first team player at League Two Dagenham & Redbridge, comes in at $162,949. That figure would make Chris Lewington, now at Colchester United, the 7th highest paid player for FC Dallas, in front of Peru’s national team goalkeeper, a US Olympic goalkeeper, a Mexican youth international goalkeeper and several internationally-capped outfield players.
Major League Soccer imposes these rules to help keep spending under control, all but eliminate debt, and aid the growth of domestic talent. Blindly comparing the two leagues is tough on MLS and its clubs, but if you feel the need to, pose it the other way and ask how a team would do with the restrictions that come in MLS. Seattle and Toronto have the spending power to compete at a good level, but they are thankfully prevented from creating a Scottish Old Firm kind of dominance and from running themselves in to the ground. As support and investment in the league grows, the salary cap will increase, the DP spots will grow, and then we can start talking about which leagues Sporting Kansas City would win.
You can follow Dan on Twitter: @Crooke86
Image courtesy of MLS Soccer