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Triangulation by Speculation: A Guesstimate on the Fire's Cap Space for 2014

With the first player transactions of the off season taking place last week, what is the current Fire's salary cap situation?

Tasos Katopodis

The Chicago Fire announced their first player transactions of the off-season last week by letting a few players go. With the re-entry draft not too far off, it seems like now would be a good time to go over the Fire’s financial outlook for the upcoming 2014 season.

Major League Soccer puts a lot of their rules out there when it comes to the structure of MLS rosters, but many of the rules are loosely defined and leave plenty of room open for interpretation. This makes the task of figuring out how much cap space a team has a little daunting. As if that was not difficult enough, the terms of each player’s contract is almost never disclosed. "Per league and policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed," should become the league's motto.

Considering the transparency I am working with, this article has a huge giant asterisk attached to it. If anyone reading this thinks that I have something wrong in this article and can correct me, please leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.

Sorting out the Particulars

I already included a link above to the MLS roster rules, but I wanted to highlight one of the main rules here. When it comes to the MLS roster rules, each team can carry 30 players on their active roster, but only 20 of those players will count against the salary cap.

Which 20 fire players will count against the cap? There are no rules listed to dictate which players are the first 20 on the roster, but it’s probably safe to assume that the players who get paid the most. Even though Wells Thompson did not make the game day 18 roster for the final two Fire matches, he is probably  one of the 20 players who count against the cap.

With that said, let’s review where the Fire stand with the salary cap at the end of 2013.

Busting at the Seams: FY13 Year End Review

Below are the MLS base salary numbers from the MLS Players Union base salary figures released on September 15th. I’m assuming the base salary figures are similar to what the cap numbers are for the players on the Fire roster because the sum of those numbers can actually be squeezed under the cap limit with a bit of creative accounting.

One thing to note is that Egidio Arévalo Rios and Juan Luis Anangonó were both signed as Designated Players during the Summer Transfer Window, so their salary cap numbers are $175,000.

Player Salary
Egidio Arévalo Ríos $175,000
Bakary Soumare $310,000
Patrick Nyarko $230,000
Jeff Larentowicz $225,000
Chris Rolfe $225,000
Mike Magee $185,000
Joel Lindpere $180,000
Logan Pause $180,000
Maicon Santos $157,000
Gonzalo Segares $155,000
Dilly Duka $140,000
Juan Luis Anangonó $175,000
Sean Johnson $120,000
Alex $110,000
Wells Thompson $105,000
Jalil Anibaba $91,245
Daniel Paladini $86,625
Austin Berry $63,425
Quincy Amarikwa $46,500
Paolo Tornaghi $46,500
TOTAL $2,959,795
CAP LIMIT $2,950,000
BALANCE -$9,795

According to these numbers, the Fire are over the cap by nearly $10,000; however, Bakary Soumare did not take up the $310K that is listed here. The Philadelphia Union were generous enough to take on part of Bakary’s cap number to make the Soumare trade more malleable for the Fire.

At the time of Soumare’s arrival, the Fire still had both Sherjill MacDonald and Arne Friedrich on their roster, who together took up over $600,000 in cap space. In light of this, Philly probably subsidized Baky’s cap number fairly heavily.

How large of a subsidy did the Fire receive? There is no clear cut answer, but it had to have been huge. Looking at Fire salaries from the May 1st, 2013 numbers released by the Players Union, the Fire had roughly $73,000 in cap space (or approximately seven tenths of a Wells Thompson). That is very little room to work with. It is possible that the terms of the Bakary Soumare deal was that the Fire would take up all of the Union’s financial obligations to Soumare if the Union would take all of Soumare’s cap space. While this deal would hamstring the Union's salary cap situation, it would free them from paying actual money to a player they no longer want.

Looking Forward: Projections for FY14

I'm going to break down some of the in's and out's of the Fire's salary cap for next season. At the end of each section, I will update how the Fire's salary is impacted. There are a lot of numbers, so I will put all of these numbers together at the very end.

Transactions to Date

We already know that Rios and Paolo Tornaghi will not be back next season. Rios was taking up $175,000 of cap space for 2013, but he was going to take up at least $368,750 on the roster in 2014. I say at least because it’s likely the cap amount for Designated Players will increase for next year. Tornaghi was only taking up $46,500 on the Fire’s cap.

It was also announced that Logan Pause’s option was declined, but Frank Yallop has made it know that he is willing to bring Logan back at a lower cost if Logan goes unclaimed in the Re-entry Draft. For the sake of this exercise, I will treat him as if he will not be returning to the Fire.

With these three players gone, the Fire's total base salary is $2,558,295.

Bakary Soumare

According to a recent interview with John Hackworth over at the Philadelphia Soccer Page, the Union will be picking up part of a portion Bakary’s cap number again this next year:

Next year comes the next step of that process. A bit of Soumare’s salary will remain on the books, but otherwise, those dead salaries will clear. "Nine tenths of it is off the books next year," Hackworth said. "It’s minimal compared to what we had last year."

According to the quote, Hackworth states that "nine tenths" of the salaries that Philly had will be gone. Since Soumare is mentioned specifically, it leads me to believe that his salary is the biggest one that will still be taking up cap space for Philly in 2014. How much cap space Soumare will be taking up is not public.

For this exercise I am going to assume that a quarter of Soumare's cap will be taken up by Philly. Why a quarter? Because I doubt the Union would take on much more of Soumare's cap space for a second straight year and because it sounded good at the time I wrote this. Also, this is a number I would prefer to underestimate on.

If I am right, which I'm likely not, Soumare's salary cap number would be $232,500 and would bring the Fire's cap number to $2,480,795.

Adjustments to the Salary Cap for 2014

Over at Massive Report, Helltown Beer has posted a pretty spiffy story on the Crew’s cap numbers. Cow Town has quite a bit of space opening up. Mr. Helltown noted that the salary cap has increased by 5% over the past few years. If the trend continued, the salary cap for 2014 will be at 3.10 million, which is up from $2.95 million.

Unfortunately, this cap increase is not to help teams purchase more talent. It is to help teams deal with wage increases, although, it hardly even does that. According to Mr. Helltown, who seems to have been tracking salary numbers for a few years, players in the MLS get a 7-10% raise each year. The idea that salary raises exceed the increase for the salary cap is so MLS that it is hard to doubt Mr. Helltown.

For projecting, it will be easier to give everyone a raise instead of going individual player by individual player. It also might be safe to assume there will be a high increase. If the Fire's current payroll received a 10%, the total raise would round up to $248,080 and bring the Fire's salary to $2,728,875.

Current Projection for 2014

There are a lot of numbers up above, so here are all of the numbers compiled.

FY13 Salary $2,959,795
Salaries of outgoing players -$401,500
Soumare compensation from Union -$77,500
Projected raises for FY14 $248,080
Projected Fire Salary for FY14 $2,728,875

With the projected salary number calculated above, below is how much space the Fire might have for 2014.

Projected Fire Salary for FY14 $2,728,875
Projected FY14 Salary Cap $3,100,000
Projected Fire cap space for FY14 $371,125

That projected number for cap space is not a whole lot of scratch for the Fire to work with. It would allow the team to bring in about three MLS veterans if they wanted to or sign one Designated Player at the 2013 cap number for signing designated player over the age of 24 at the start of the season.

With all of this in mind, the off season has just begun and the Fire will most likely be looking to make more moves in the coming weeks. Tomorrow I will have a short addendum to this piece up on Hot Time that will take a look at some of the other players who could potentially be on their way out.