MLS Players getting paid for their name, not their game

Yesterday we took a look at who have been some of the best bargains in MLS this season based on the information from the Player’s Union salary release from last Friday. Today, we’re taking a look at the other side of that coin and who might be overpaid relative to their on-field performance.

Dots in the image below represent players who have played at least 900 minutes this season. They are sized based on guaranteed compensation and colored by cQxG involvement per 90 this season. One clear takeaway is how dominated the higher salaries are by attacking players. Of the 12 players who make more than $2M, seven are midfielders and five are forwards though the midfielders make up five of the top six. Only four of those highest paid 12 are also represented in the top 12 in terms of cQxG involved per 90: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC),Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC) and David Villa (NYCFC). All four players have translated that cQxG into goals; all four have a goals involved per 90 above 0.7.

Guaranteed compensation and cQxG

On the flip side, the large, light green dots represent players who are getting paid a lot (in MLS terms) but haven’t contributed much to goal scoring opportunities; namely Michael Bradley, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard. First of all, though Lampard has been involved in little in the way of goal scoring opportunity, he’s been involved in a lot of goals. Lampard has scored 12 goals in 15 starts and boasts the highest goals minus cQxG in the league (7.8), meaning he’s been one of the deadliest finishers in the league.

Bradley and Pirlo on the other hand have not had particularly strong seasons for their pay grade when it comes to scoring chances or scoring at all. Pirlo has scored one goal and assisted six, while Bradley has equaled Pirlo’s one goal and tallied four assists. In Bradley’s defense, he’s played further back than anyone else in the >$2M tax bracket with the majority of his appearances coming in a DM role, and he’s contributing in other ways. Bradley leads Toronto with 5.1 tackles + interceptions per 90 and all of MLS with 9.5 ball recoveries and 75 passes per 90.

While Bradley has excelled in that role this season, that doesn’t necessarily make him worth the third highest salary in the league ($6.5M in guaranteed compensation for 2016). Dax McCarty has averaged eight fewer passes, 0.6 fewer ball recoveries but 0.6 more tackles + interceptions and his guaranteed compensation for the year is $500,000 or roughly 8% of Bradley’s.

Pirlo, three places back of Bradley in salary at roughly $5.9M guaranteed this year, was one of the best deep lying playmakers to ever play the game, but in his first season in MLS many of his stats fell off from where they were against tougher competition the previous season in Serie A. That trend has continued now in his second season with NYCFC. Total passes per game, shot assists per game and passing accuracy have all gone down now for the second consecutive domestic season. Currently, Pirlo is T-14th in MLS with six assists, three of the players ahead of him are paid more than he is, but the remaining ten combined still make less than half what the Italian legend will be paid this year. Pirlo’s final season with Juve was magical – the Bianconeri won Serie A by 17 points, the Coppa Italia in extra time and made a run to the Champions League Final against Barcelona with Pirlo instrumental to it all. Unfortunately for NYCFC fans, l’architetto has not been able to replicate that same form in MLS and, at this point, he’s being paid more for his name than his game.