It’s that time of year again.
Major League Soccer has made public its annual salaries for all players in the league. This provides analysts and fans an opportunity to see how much investment has gone into the players on the field, and serves as a jumping off point for discussing the team’s on field results.
A troubling stat quickly jumps to the forefront: Chicago is paying the second most per point in the league, at $939,302. The Fire sit just behind Toronto FC, who are spending $1,164,326 for every point, but are currently on the right side of the playoff line. This is a major problem, as the results are not matching the monetary investment in players, and attendance has not justified the increased spending from the ownership group.
A quick glance at the dollar amounts around the league show that average salary has gone up again to $414,800, but other teams seem to be doing a better job of finding talent for close to that dollar amount, as the Fire are spending the third most in the league.
The end result of looking at the Fire’s roster figures shows a team that is under-performing, and highly reliant on high-priced foreign talent. What this tells us is a two-fold issue with the team.
First, is that the Fire are not investing enough in developing their youth players, and rather are choosing to overspend on European prospects that the team and coaches hope will transition well to MLS and fit in with the team. Chicago’s front office is enamored with players that boast European experience, and have shown a preference towards them over homegrown talent. This is partly due to a largely failed off-season transfer window in which most of the team’s targets did not pan out, and they were forced to bring in overpriced alternatives.
Secondly, it shows that the current coaching staff is not doing enough to get consistent, high-level production from their high-cost imports. Head coach Veljko Paunovic and his staff need to find a way to rotate line-ups, alter formations, and change up practices to get more from the players on the Fire roster.
So,what can be done to rectify this situation before its too late? That depends on if the Fire’s front office believes that this season can be saved, and want to invest in some changes during the summer transfer window; or if they are putting all their eggs in the 2020 basket, looking to move to Soldier Field with a new-look team.
Either way, the elephant in the room is the large 5.6-million-dollar contract that Bastian Schweinsteiger negotiated this offseason. Basti is the fifth highest player in the league (not counting the 6.5 million the Galaxy are paying Giovanni Dos Santos not to be in LA), but the German legend is not matching the productivity found with the other names on this list. Sitting below Schweinsteiger on the list are Alejandro Pozuelo, Wayne Rooney and Josef Martinez, all of whom command over two million dollars less and have been much more impactful for their clubs this season.
While the name recognition and merchandise sales generated from Bastian are great, tying up so much salary in one player that has not been producing game-changing performances is a tough pill to swallow for the Fire. Either this window or during the offseason, Chicago will need to move on from their mega-star, investing that money into a new generation of players that can help the team lift that championship trophy again.
Sometimes the best answers are not found overseas, and the Fire need to recognize this. Many fans, coaches and teams are enamored with the European leagues, and believe that is where the world’s best talent resides. While this may be true to an extent, these players need to make a major adjustment to the culture and playing style of MLS, and often the investment is not worth the production.
For Chicago, looking domestically and within their own developmental system would provide a number of talented players that could fit in well with the current Fire squad. The Fire have four starting-caliber players that have joined the team either through the draft or academies (Mihailovic, Bronico, Adams, Lillard), and provide a solid core to build around. The important thing to note, is that all four make less than $150,000, with two less than $100,000.
Continuing to develop their young talent could present massive rewards for Chicago, as it would allow for more funds to be used to bring in top tier talent. Chicago needs to continue to be creative in their investments, to ensure that they are not throwing money after foreign talent and hoping to find a fit.