In the era of the designated player (which costs teams $400,000 towards their salary cap) and with the introduction of million-dollar salaries, finding bargains and avoiding overpaying players has become even more crucial for teams in Major League Soccer.
Finding one or two productive players for $40,000 or less can often be the key to helping a team make a strong playoff run, but having one or two busts soaking up six-figure salaries can spell doom for a club that made a poor investment.
Here are the best and worst bargains in MLS through the midway point of the season (2007 base salaries included):
Goalkeepers: A year after MLS teams found gems in Troy Perkins (D.C. United) and Matt Pickens (Chicago Fire), we have seen a couple more young goalkeeper prospects emerge. The best bargain of the half-season in goal is Colorado's Bouna Coundoul ($30,000). The Rapids thought enough of Coundoul to trade away star goalkeeper Joe Cannon, and Coundoul has responded by being one of the few bright spots in a disappointing Colorado campaign. His ability to make some truly amazing saves has kept Colorado in many games in which it should have been blown out.
FC Dallas goalkeeper Shaka Hislop ($220,800) is the runaway choice as the most overpaid goalkeeper. He parlayed a solid World Cup into a ridiculous contract by MLS goalkeeper standards, even if he had won the starting job in Dallas. As a backup, Hislop has become the ultimate bust.
Defenders: It should come as no surprise that the best back-line bargains are on teams that have spent heavily on their attack. D.C. United center back Bobby Boswell ($30,870) is on this list for a second straight season. The 2006 MLS Defender of the Year, Boswell received a national team call-up and played for the United States in Copa America.
Los Angeles defender Ty Harden ($30,000) has been a revelation for the Galaxy. He's not going to get much rookie of the year consideration, but the second-round pick has been steady enough to lead the team in games started.
Toronto FC rookie Andrew Boyens ($30,000) also has provided great value. The No. 10 pick in the 2007 draft, Boyens has helped the TFC defense overcome a shaky start, and it looks like he could have a solid MLS career.
The worst values on defense aren't that tough to figure out. Columbus' Chad Marshall ($100,000) has one of the Crew's highest salaries but only recently regained a steady starting role. Facundo Erpen ($115,000), now with Colorado after being dealt by D.C. United, has become synonymous with big defensive errors, while Toronto FC defender Marco Reda ($100,000) has played in just five matches. That's five more matches than Adrian Serioux ($108,000) has played for FC Dallas because of knee surgery.
|MLS All-Underpaid Team|
|GK Bouna Coundoul ($30,000)|
D Bobby Boswell ($30,870)
D Ty Harden ($30,000)
D Andrew Boyens ($30,000)
M Michael Harrington ($36,000)
M Andy Dorman ($30,870)
M Jeff Larentowicz (30,870)
M Ned Grabavoy ($45,050)
F Adam Cristman ($17,700)
F Joseph Ngwenya ($51,148)
F Maykel Galindo ($72,500)
Midfielders: There are always great bargains in midfield, and that is no different in 2007. New England, which always has a handful of players on the All-Bargain team, has two in midfield: Andy Dorman ($30,870) and Jeff Larentowicz ($30,870). Dorman's salary is stunning for a player who has five goals and two assists this season, but that bargain will disappear as Dorman is expected to leave MLS after this season. Larentowicz has been a revelation this year, starting 12 games for the Revs.
Ned Grabavoy ($45,050) is a candidate to be the Columbus Crew's MVP award. His three goals and two assists don't do his contributions to the Crew justice.
Kansas City rookie Michael Harrington ($36,000) has given the Wizards solid play on the left flank, making himself the front-runner for Rookie of the Year in the process. Red Bulls rookie Dane Richards ($30,000) deserves an honorable mention for his play on the right wing for coach Bruce Arena.
The midfielders among the worst values are some of the league's most well-known players. Claudio Reyna ($1,000,008) has provided leadership and enjoyed some great games for the Red Bulls, but his inconsistency in recent weeks and missed games due to injury make his seven-figure salary a bad value at this point in the season. Freddy Adu ($300,000) enjoyed a great showing in the U-20 World Cup, but his play for Real Salt Lake has not been worth close to his salary.
Eddie Gaven ($165,000) is the Crew's highest-paid player but has managed just a goal and two assists, showing few flashes of the 2004 MLS Best XI midfielder he was with the MetroStars. Red Bulls fans are still waiting to see Markus Schopp ($175,000) show the form that made him the Austrian national team captain.
Forwards: There is no position that is tougher to find bargains at than forward. Discovering an unknown player who can deliver goals is almost unheard of, but that doesn't mean there aren't some good values at the position.
Arguably the best bargain at any position, rookie Adam Cristman ($17,700) has given New England impressive production at a developmental player salary. His three goals and four assists is better than Pat Noonan's production at a fraction of the price.
The second forward among the bargains is the highest-paid player on the All-Underpaid Team, but Maykel Galindo ($72,500) has produced like a maximum-salary player. His seven goals and three assists should earn him an All-Star nod. Honorable mention in this category goes to Joseph Ngwenya ($51,148), who has scored a team-high five goals since joining the Houston Dynamo.
Noonan could get consideration for the overpaid category, but he has at least produced some as a starter. Conor Casey ($180,000) has yet to score a goal in seven appearances for Colorado, while Nate Jaqua ($112,500) was so ineffective for Los Angeles (one goal in 10 games) the Galaxy shipped him to Houston.
So how much would it cost to field the MLS All-Underpaid team? Try $435,008. So you could pay the All-Underpaid Team eleven times over for the cost of one David Beckham ($5,500,000).
If you're wondering where the league's highest-paid players are, Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco ($2,492,300) have yet to arrive so it is too early to tell what their impact will be in MLS. One thing is certain: Neither of them will offer the kind of value that the members of the MLS All-Underpaid team provide.
MLS GAME PREVIEWS
Chivas USA at New England Revolution -- Look for Taylor Twellman to regain his scoring touch as the Revs look to regain the East lead. Revolution 2, Chivas USA 1.
Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew -- Columbus is rolling and Real Salt Lake is still looking for its first win of the season. Crew 1, Real Salt Lake 0.
Toronto FC at Chicago Fire -- Justin Mapp should return, but that won't be enough to stop Toronto FC from earning its first road win of the season. Toronto 2, Fire 0.
Kansas City Wizards at Los Angeles Galaxy -- The Wizards will have a tough time trying to contain a Galaxy attack that now boasts Donovan and Carlos Pavon. Galaxy 2, Wizards 1.
Red Bulls at Colorado Rapids -- Something isn't right with coach Bruce Arena's squad, and the Rapids are winless in their last seven matches. Can there really be a winner? Nope. Red Bulls 0, Rapids 0.
D.C. United at Houston Dynamo -- Ah, a true MLS Cup final preview. Joseph Ngwenya continues his hot streak, as does Houston. Dynamo 1, DC United 0.
Last week: 0-2-3
Overall record: 28-24-16
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.