MLS Commissioner Don Garber: Yeah, it's gotta be this complicated. Sorry.
Discussing the Chicago Fire or any other MLS team's salary budget is always very complicated. You might want to take a look at our 'Roster 101' and 'Roster Construction' pieces before proceeding. Even veterans of such discussions need to remind each other that we are talking about a salary budget and not a salary cap. Major League Soccer gave each team $2,675,000 at the beginning of the season and told the teams to go hog wild. MLS and its teams do not report how much they pay their players so we have to rely on the numbers provided from the MLS Players Union. The MLSPU provides two different figures per player, we aren't 100% sure which figure the salary budget draws from, and the teams say that MLSPU numbers are usually off. Great...
Did I mention the fact that only certain players count towards the budget? How about the existence of 'allocation money' which essentially is a secret fund the league provides to each MLS team? Teams can use allocation money to do all sorts of crazy things like pay down a player's charge against the salary budget. If you thought the National Basketball Association had a soft cap, you ain't seen nothing yet. With that warning out of the way and a little trepidation on my part, we attempt to tackle the Chicago Fire salary budget picture.
1. The Main Chart
|Roster Slot||Team||Player||Base Salary||Guaranteed
Supplemental Roster/Off-Budget Roster
|24||CHI||Pineda Victor||$42,000||$48,742||Home Grown Player/Domestic|
|25||CHI||Johnson Sean||$75,000||$108,000||Generation adidas /Domestic|
|26||CHI||Bone Corben||$90,000||$151,200||Generation adidas /Domestic|
2. First Glance
I bolded Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini because I'm estimating their budget charge is $167,400. Why such an odd figure? Because both players are non-designated players and we know designated players signed halfway through the year carry the maximum budget charge of $167,500. It's quite possible that Pardo and Grazzini actually have salaries that are over $167,500 but the team is using allocation money to buy down the budget charge. This would be smart because allocation money is given to the Fire by the league and the label 'designated player' adds extra pressure to the individual being given the title. The team also has to pay money out of their own pocket to cover any salary that exceeds the $167,500 half-season or $335,000 full season budget charge. For example, the team paid Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg a lot of money out of pocket last year for much mixed success. The cash going to Grazzini and Pardo is all league provided.
Next, why are certain players not included in the salary budget total? For 2011 MLS Rosters, only roster spots No. 1-20 count towards the budget and are referred to as the ingeniously titled 'Salary Budget Players'. Players in roster spots No. 21-30 are 'Off-Budget Players'. As I discussed in the Chicago Fire Roster Construction post, HTIOT obtained which players were on the supplemental roster/off-salary budget whereas we were uncertain on that before. With Jalil Anibaba and Gabriel Ferrari being off-budget players, that actually gives Chicago a little extra money on the guaranteed compensation side of things. They aren't using that extra cash to their benefit right now but it's there.
3. Long-Term Planning
If you want to talk about who Chicago could add right now, the options would be pie in the sky if the ownership wanted to drop the dough. Around $1M is sitting on the table and that's enough room to bring in three designated players. At this point in the season though, that would be dumb, as in really dumb. There are 18 teams in MLS right now and there will be 19 next year. The league is more competitive than it was even 3 years ago. You have to build a solid core to get and stay at the top. Teams can't patchwork together a bunch of stars and hope it fits come playoff time. We saw what happened last year and I have no idea what Toronto thinks they are accomplishing right now. These last twenty games have been painful but we've discovered several talented players to build a team around. This is essentially the model that FC Dallas, Colorado and other teams have rode to success. Perhaps you watched last year's MLS Cup Final? Bringing in even one or two more players to play positions where we are already strong with young talent would be unnecessary and provide only a marginal upgrade if at all. There's great value in players playing together that know each other. Besides the team has some salary hits coming at them for 2012.
Sean Johnson will almost certainly graduate from Generation adidas at the end of the season. I can't say for 100% sure - because imagine this - the MLS rules for Generation adidas aren't specifically laid out. However, it would go heavily against the norm if Johnson was not upgraded to a Salary Budget roster spot. The team will take a larger salary budget hit in 2012 and even a larger one past 2012 if they want to keep Sean around. Along those same lines, the team may not be playing Corben Bone because it would be advantageous for Bone to remain Off-Budget. I will say that Corben has shown promise but he is far from lights out. Again the guidelines for graduating from the Generation adidas program are a little hazy but we do know that Bone has played significantly less minutes (566) in his MLS career than 2010 Generation adidas graduate Baggio Husidic did in his first two years (1947 minutes). Gabriel Ferrari is not Generation adidas but I'm speculating that MLS service time might play a factor in a player getting promoted to the Off-Budget/Senior Roster. By keeping Ferrari in the Reserves League games, they keep his 'clock' where it is and keep his moderately large contract from hitting the Salary Budget. Cue the people who say that Ferrari isn't any good but that's just my two cents.
4. Last Thoughts
There is a slight possibility that Kwame Watson-Siriboe could be moved from a Senior Roster/Salary Budget spot to a Supplemental Roster/Off-Salary Budget spot. He fits the profile of a recently drafted player under the age of 25 who is making $44,000 or less. I'm confused as to why he was bumped up to be honest. It's my assumption that players can only go from the Supplemental Roster up to the Senior Roster and not vice-versa but it wouldn't shock me to see it happen next year. Watson-Siriboe is taking up a valuable spot as other players might 'graduate' from the Supplemental Roster to the Senior Roster, the team will want to sign new players in the off-season and the 20-man Senior Roster is already full. I wrote yesterday I think this is the group of individuals that will represent the players the Fire head coach will have to select from for the August 30th U.S. Open Cup Semi-Final vs. the Richmond Kickers but the 2012 off-season might rival the 2011 off-season for roster activity.