The MLS Players Union released the complete list of player earnings this week, and while competing in the league remains a labor of love for most players, there were some encouraging increases over last season.
The average salary is up 12 percent (to more than $154,000) and all but three teams increased their payrolls this season. The median MLS team, according to Jeremiah Oshan, is spending roughly $500,000 more on salaries than it was in 2010.
Yet despite these increases, the median salary went down this year, from $90,000 to $80,000. For more on that apparent contradiction, and lots of other number-crunching goodness, click here, and for the complete list of salaries, see here.
Let’s take a look at who’s earning their keep and who should pull an Oguchi Onyewu and play for free in 2012.
(All figures “guaranteed compensation” for 2011)
Nery Castillo, Chicago Fire, $2,038,062: He turned up out of shape and made eight lackluster appearances last season (with zero goals) and is currently on loan to Greek side Aris FC. One of the alltime MLS busts.
Julian de Guzman, Toronto FC, $1,910,746: He’s not a bad player, but the Canadian international has yet to live up to his billing (or salary), and the grace period is over. His countryman Dwayne De Rosario makes one-quarter that amount—and is twice the player.
Andres Mendoza, Columbus Crew, $595,000: Mendoza was upgraded to designated player status, and salary, during the offseason, and has been riding the Crew pine since April.
Nick Kounenakis, Sporting Kansas City, 120,004: He’s not breaking the bank but … who is Nick Kounenakis? [Googles Nick Kounenakis….] He’s a South African–born Greek centerback—who was released from the team in February.
Brian Nielsen, New York Red Bulls, $120,000: Again, a player not necessarily taking home a Brink’s truck of cash, but also not seeing the field. Nielsen made two appearances in 2010, and a combination of injuries and the Red Bulls’ solid midfield have kept him sidelined so far in 2011.
Tim Ream, New York Red Bulls, $62,625: The 2010 Rookie of the Year candidate continues to anchor the New York backline, and has received a handful of U.S. national-team callups. He earned just $40,000 last year, so this is a bump up, but not enough of one.
Diego Chaves, Chicago Fire, $45,000: He leads the team in scoring with four goals. His strike partner Gaston Puerari also qualifies as a bargain at $50,000. He may not have Chaves’s numbers but he’s looked dangerous every time we’ve seen him.
Omar Cummings, Colorado, $89,188: He’s sputtered a bit coming out of the gate in 2011 (and he’s currently injured), but Cummings produced 14 goals and three assists in 28 starts last season, then impressed in a trial with Aston Villa of the Premier League (visa issues scotched a deal). MLS is lucky to have him, crazily so at this price.
Khalif Alhassan, Portland, $69,250: The 20-year-old Ghanian winger has sparked the Portland attack this year, picking up assists in each of the Timbers first three home games, all victories.
Fabian Espindola, Real Salt Lake, $75,000: He scored eight goals last season, and we won’t be a bit surprised if the hard-working Argentine tops that total in 2011.
Geoff Cameron, Houston Dynamo, $245,000: That’s more like it for the best player on the Dynamo roster—who earned $40,000 last season.
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes, $175,000: Last year, Wondo scored 18 goals to lead the league—while earning $48,000.
Carl Robinson, New York Red Bulls, $75,000: Our least favorite Red Bull pulled down $315,000 last season. He still outearns the far more valuable Ream, but at least they cut him down to size this year.