Charlie Davies and Chris Pontius have been D.C. United's best attacking players up to this point in 2011, and they're also good deals on the financial side of things.
The MLS players union has made a tradition of releasing a list of salaries, and it's that time of year again. That also means that us fans can speculate on who deserves a raise, who makes as much as you do (let's face it, this is MLS; that guy is on your team's roster every year) while decrying the lucky so-and-so that makes $200,000 to sit the bench. It's also where you can find out how Charlie Davies, the league's leading scorer and a big draw in American soccer, makes less than Heath Pearce, Bobby Convey, and Danny Califf (not to mention busts like Ibrahim Salou and potentially Carlos Ruiz). I know Dave Kasper and Kevin Payne aren't super-popular amongst United fans after the past few seasons, but you've got to give them huge credit for getting a player like Davies to come here for less than $250,000 a season.
The salary cap is still very small, but it's no longer a disaster to be carrying someone making six figures who sits your bench. It's not ideal, to be sure, but playoff teams can get away with that these days. Back in the day, one bad signing could kill your entire roster. Now, clubs can even be successful with a Designated Player out with a long term injury, which is exactly what DC United is trying to do with Branko Boskovic scheduled for surgery on his torn ACL tomorrow.
Beyond the jump, we'll take a look at each current United player's salary with a view towards where the club got a deal, where the price is right, and where things went wrong.STEALS
These are players that are being paid less than you'd have expected given their value to United and what other similar players around MLS are being paid.
Blake Brettschneider ($42,000): Brettschneider hasn't seen much playing time of late, but you can make an argument that he's not vastly different from Joseph Ngwenya for nearly 1/4 the price. Supplemental picks that earn a roster spot are always a good deal.
Charlie Davies ($244,870): Back in the day, this would be a fair price. In the relatively heady days of Designated Players and back-up keepers not living on ramen and side coaching gigs, this is a deal and a half. It's also win-win, since Davies gets to make a great push for time with the national team in the league where most of our defenders get called in from.
Bill Hamid ($69,750): Hamid is our starting keeper, so that alone makes this a great deal. Add in his status as one of the handful of u23 keepers with legitimate hopes to play for the national team, and I'd say that Hamid would be a deal at double this price.
Stephen King ($44,000): I know that King has only two starts in all competitions, but his performance against Dallas started discussion of his value as a potential starter. It might be premature, but the point is that we know King is a solid MLS role player capable of playing more than one position, and yet he makes barely over the league minimum. Look around MLS; the teams that succeed have precisely that kind of player playing for less than $50,000.
Chris Korb ($42,000): See above, more or less. Korb is less of a proven commodity than King, but he has mostly done well given his pre-draft status as "the other dude from Akron." By contrast, Kofi Sarkodie (Akron's other outside back) is set to make over $110,000, but can't find a start for the Houston Dynamo.
Andy Najar ($155,800): Najar makes big bucks, but any 18 year old MLS player that can get a national team program to move heaven and earth to keep him in their national team shirt is worth more than this against the cap solely based on future gains (who he'll become as a player, and the nigh-inevitable transfer fee). Plus, you know, he's kinda good right now anyway.
Chris Pontius ($136,250): Another guy making a pretty penny, but Pontius is one of the few players in MLS who is both at his most comfortable and actually good at playing left midfield. Throw in his further versatility and future potential, and this is a good deal.
Players who are making roughly what they deserve to make against the MLS salary cap.
Steve Cronin ($72,000): Cronin is a back up keeper with starting experience in MLS and was the 2009 USL keeper of the year. 72,000 used to be a starter's wage, but these days it's a fair price for a veteran GK who won't lose games for you.
Perry Kitchen ($148,200): Kitchen may one day become a great player, and he could soon become a guy that could justifiably ask MLS for double this. As of now, though, he is a work in progress whose potential is the bigger factor for what is a high MLS salary.
Devon McTavish ($50,000): McTavish is the quintessential MLS role player, and this is lower than average for players that fit that description. Hopefully we see him get the chance to prove himself again; his lingering concussion is worrisome given DC's history with these things.
Pat Onstad ($47,000): Onstad was basically a rental, so this price is based on how much his deal would pay him over a full season. I know Onstad didn't exactly turn back the clock in his starts, but our young team got a three-time MLS Cup winner behind them to start the season instead of a supplemental pick with no experience.
Santino Quaranta ($117,500): This is a steep price to pay for a guy that is not first choice at any of the positions he plays. However, Quaranta is a veteran, a locker room asset, and is still a good player (even if he never became the national team regular he threatened to be a couple of times over his career). I can see arguments that he's overpaid, but I've got no problems with Tino on this salary.
Conor Shanosky ($69,218): This seems fair for a regular in the US youth program. It's hard to judge exactly what Shanosky's potential is without having seen him play real MLS - or even Open Cup - minutes. Nonetheless, I feel like this is a realistic price for a u20 national team player; that potential often costs more than the senior minimum.
Ethan White ($71,000): I'm almost tempted to list White as a steal, since he's currently starting. If he's still first-choice in a few weeks, I'd be ready to make that move. Even if he falls back to the bench, a u20 with otherworldly athletic gifts is worth this kind of deal, and maybe a bit more.
Joe Willis ($42,000): Third-choice keeper, minimum salary. If this isn't the case for your club, either the kid you thought would be third is exceeding expectations, or you screwed up.
Josh Wolff ($160,000): On a young team, Wolff's experience bolsters his salary claims. It doesn't hurt that El Lobo is a starter and hasn't played a single poor game. When we don't notice Wolff, it's usually because the midfield is not getting him the ball rather than him just going absent.
Daniel Woolard ($50,000): Part of me says that this is a fair price for a guy that can start today, but that we should be replacing this summer. On the other hand, if he keeps Marc Burch out of the lineup and the defense keeps shutting teams down like they did against FC Dallas, this could become a steal.
Jed Zayner ($70,375): Zayner is a solid, unspectacular defender, and this is about what solid, unspectacular MLS defenders go for these days.
Dax McCarty ($175,000): There are plenty of United fans that have already concluded that McCarty is something of a bust. I disagree; more often than not, he's giving us exactly what we signed him for. That's not to say he can't do better, or make fans more comfortable with this high salary, but he's one of the best in MLS at what he does. The conflict comes from what people thought he was here to do. I've said this before: Dax would have saved himself some trouble if he picked a different number. The 10 shirt comes with perceptions, especially at the same club that once had Marco Etcheverry and Christian Gomez winning MVP trophies with that number.
MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN
Players we're overpaying, or who are good enough to earn their full check but haven't played up to their potential.
Rodrigo Brasesco ($47,000): Brasesco arrived at United with Copa Libertadores (the second-best club tournament in the world) experience, but his showings thus far have made that fact utterly puzzling. I'm not entirely writing him off as a lost cause yet - he hasn't made enough appearances to be certain - but even at this low figure, he's taking up a foreign roster spot while being fourth choice at both center back and right back. We can get an American player to fill that job.
Marc Burch ($97,500): It's not that Burch has been bad, or that I'm judging him on past returns. I know that actual left-footed left backs are hard to find in MLS, but even on his best form Burch is too slow. I used to think we should just be rid of him, but his 2011 play has been good enough for him to be somewhere on the roster. The problem is that he makes starting wages, and we'll always have some issues if he's a starting player.
Fred ($157,750): Ouch. Look, I'm not as down on Fred as most United fans, because I see that he works hard and is capable of occasionally pulling a rabbit out of his hat, so to speak. However, for this kind of money, Fred should either be a likely starter or be a very valuable sub. Instead, Fred is arguably our fourth-best wide midfielder and still has a maddening tendency to get into great positions but not score (Kevin Hartman made a great save Saturday, but that header could have been a lot better). I was OK with us bringing him back at somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000, but this is well beyond that range.
Dejan Jakovic ($201,643): Jakovic at his best is worth this much. He might even be considered a steal. However, the biggest problem with Jakovic is that he's so inconsistent that you never know when the best version of him will show up. His recent play has been strong; hopefully it's not another false dawn.
Kurt Morsink ($63,500): Yes, this is a fairly low price for a back up with Morsink's experience. However, I've never been able to shake the suspicion that we could find draft a kid - and not in the early rounds - who could deliver what Morsink does currently, and offer more upside to boot. Morsink reminds me of plenty of players who become respected starters in whatever the US second division is in a given season, but that aren't quite right for an MLS team.
Joseph Ngwenya ($156,000): Ngwenya was a reasonable pick in the Re-Entry Draft, when we thought he'd be making no more than the $72,000 Houston was paying him in 2010. This is over double that, and you could argue that Brettschneider and Ngwenya are roughly equal as players. I'd call this our worst deal. I know forwards come at a premium, and there was a time when Ngwenya was a threat to score 10+ goals in MLS, but none of that justifies paying this kind of coin for a guy whose main attribute at this point is to come in and work hard while Davies or Wolff rests. "Hard working" is not the first thing I want to think of when I think about a striker.
Clyde Simms ($179,250): Simms is a good player, and we can succeed with him as our defensive midfielder. So why is he listed here? Other MLS teams are paying equivalent or better defensive midfielders lower wages, that's why. You want names? Jeff Larentowicz, Daniel Hernandez, Lovel Palmer, Chris Birchall, Juninho (!), Brian Carroll, Jack Jewsbury, Osvaldo Alonso (!), and Terry Dunfield are all as good or better than Simms at a roughly equivalent role, yet are paid less. Teemu Tainio looks like the most likely MLS Best 11 defensive midfielder at this point, and he makes only about $20,000 more.
My point isn't that Simms is a bad player; it's that we are overpaying for him within the context of MLS. Offered a straight trade, I'd swap Simms for Larentowicz, Juninho, Jewsbury, and Alonso off the above list without a second thought.
Players who, for various reasons, haven't had time to be evaluated in terms of the cap. Maybe they've had injuries, or maybe it's someone whose long-term value might be worth taking a hit today.
Brandon Barklage ($43,566): If Barklage can provide adequate depth at the positions he can play - and he may yet grow into being an adequate right back, to go with his ability across the midfield - this is a fair deal.
Branko Boskovic ($525,366): The Boskovic that we saw against New York and New England was potentially the player that could turn our possession into constant danger. The Boskovic we saw before that was justifiably sitting the bench. The injury to Boskovic was horribly timed, and there is a chance we'll never know what he is truly capable in MLS.
Junior Carreiro ($45,978): It's hard to say much about Junior, especially since he's been out with an injury seemingly forever. I can live with taking a flyer on a 19 year old prospect, and Junior actually makes enough that he doesn't have to sleep on his brother Fred's couch (like he would have as recently as last season). The issue with Junior is more about whether we can find a better 19 year old prospect. In other words, is he the best last man on the roster we can find?
So what's the verdict, then? I'd say the amount we're saving on the "steals" outweighs what we're losing on the "money down the drain" group, especially with players like Simms and Jakovic potentially able to move themselves up out of that bunch. The plus is that, as Payne recently told Steve Goff, there is room under the cap to improve on the current squad. Ben Olsen has the team currently about where they should be, which is mid-table. This young team will improve, so our current standing - we'd be the last team out of the playoffs as I write this - will get better as our youngsters gain experience. If this group can be bolstered with one or two astute signings in the summer transfer window, there is every reason to hope for a playoff spot come fall.