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Breaking down the Union's salary cap situation - summer edition

The MLS salary cap went up 12% and the Union spent 20% more on player salaries, and that's less good news for their salary cap situation.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The MLS player salaries have been released and now we can use them to estimate where the Union are against the salary cap. Of course there are still many unknowns, but at least we can get a sense of what the Union are facing in the transfer window and beyond. We know now that the Union increased their payroll by approximately 20% between last season and this season. That does not include transfer fees. The salary cap increased just 12% year over year and that's partly why the Union are in a bind.

As the season began we took an educated guess at where the Philadelphia Union stood against the cap and the thinking was they were pretty close to it. Last Friday the actual salaries came out and now we know that the guess was pretty close. Some players make more (a lot more) and some less, but all in the Union need allocation money to get below the cap.

Here are a couple of pointers as you look at each player's cap impact.

  • Even though Edu is guaranteed $768,750 in compensation, he only counts $436,250 against the cap because he is a Designated Player
  • Fernando Aristeguieta is also a Designated Player and because he is younger than 23, he counts just $200,000 against the cap. That wrinkle is something to remember because on April 9, 2016 Aristeguieta will turn 24 and his cap hit will increase to something about $458,000 (next year's projected max cap hit). If Aristeguieta is on the team next year, they may need to pay a transfer fee for him and his cap hit will more than double. Given the current cap issues, the Union would have to find quite a bit more cap space to retain his services.
  • For the rest of the players I assume the salary cap charge is in between the players' base salary and their guaranteed compensation. Player cap hits are not publicly available outside of Designated Players so we have to assume the impact.

Here's the table of the early season guess and the current guess:

Player April tBG Guaranteed Compensation Estiamte April tBG Salary "Cap" Estimate Actual 2015 Base Salary Actual 2015 Guaranteed Compensation New Salary "Cap" Estimate
Maurice Edu ! $715,000 $465,000 $700,000 $768,750 $436,250
Cristian Maidana $214,650 $465,000 $203,500 $217,250 $213,813
Fernando Aristeguieta ! $450,000 $240,000 $350,004 $350,004 $200,000
Vincent Nogueira $356,400 $356,400 $330,000 $330,000 $330,000
Sebastien Le Toux $283,838 $280,378 $275,000 $285,228 $282,671
Andrew Wenger $261,360 $261,360 $180,000 $282,000 $256,500
Rais M'Bolhi $259,200 $259,200 $350,000 $350,000 $350,000
Steven Vitoria $250,000 $250,000 $400,000 $400,000 $400,000
Conor Casey $144,375 $144,375 $180,000 $180,000 $180,000
Brian Carroll $138,915 $138,915 $150,000 $150,000 $150,000
Sheanon Williams $140,940 $139,455 $145,000 $150,500 $149,125
CJ Sapong $120,960 $120,960 $125,000 $142,000 $137,750
Michael Lahoud $110,520 $109,620 $108,900 $112,233 $111,400
Fabio Alves $108,540 $107,325 $114,000 $118,500 $117,375
Ray Gaddis $104,626 $104,626 $130,000 $132,500 $131,875
Ethan White $86,400 $86,400 $125,000 $125,000 $125,000
Fred $70,697 $70,697 $60,000 $60,000 $60,000
Bryan Sylvestre* $60,000 $60,000 $60,000 $60,000
Andre Blake^ $122,040 $85,000 $123,000
Zach Pfeffer $91,800 $60,000 $60,000
Jimmy McLaughlin $81,000 $60,000 $60,000
John McCarthy $50,000 $50,000 $56,250
Ray Lee $50,000 $60,000 $60,000
Eric Ayuk $50,000 $50,000 $50,000
Eric Bird $50,000 $60,000 $60,000
Richie Marquez $50,000 $60,000 $60,000
Dzenan Catic $50,000 $60,000 $75,000
Antoine Hoppenot $60,440 $60,000 $60,000
Totals $4,411,260 $3,659,711 $4,531,404 $4,818,215 $3,691,758
** Homegrown Player
^ Generation Adidas player
! Designated Player
* Slyvestre swapped for Hoppenot earlier in season

Only the senior roster players count against the budget so the number right now looks like $3.69M. The current salary budget is $3.49. We don't know exactly who the senior roster players are but swapping people between the two rosters doesn't change the story much. The Union are likely using their allocation money to get below the cap. MLS has been a little bit more clear about the amount of allocation money teams get. For example we know they all start with $150K and then get more for a variety of reasons, like not making the playoffs. They can also trade for allocation money, and those exact numbers are never announced in the trade. So we don't know exactly how much allocation money but it's a good bet they have at least $200K. But betting on more than that would be stretch.

Comparisons to last year -

  • Last year the Union spent just a shade over $4M in total player compensation. This year the number is about 20% higher at $4.8M.

The bulk of that increase went to a few key players. This table below approximates the net impact of a player signing. In the case of Vitoria, his net increase is just $250K because he replaced a prorated Carlos Valdes salary from 2014.

Approximate Net Increase versus Replacement Player(s) Pos
$250,000 Vitoria net of Valdes CB
$120,000 Edu DM/CB
$210,000 M'Bolhi GK
$450,000 Aristeguieta F
$120,000 Sapong F
$1,150,000 Total

The Union also lost Amobi Okugo and loaned our players like Zac MacMath, Austin Berry and Danny Cruz. That's how they netted to the roughly $800K increase in total compensation to players. But those five players account for a $1.15M increase.

  • Of the players who were on the roster both last year and this year, the average player received a 16% raise. This is despite declines in salary for Vincent Noguiera, Zach Pfeffer, Conor Casey and Brian Carroll.
  • Gaddis received the largest percentage raise, moving from $52K in 2014 to $132K, a more than 150% raise.

The Union spent more but have they spent it all wisely? The M'Bolhi salary of $350K feels very tight around the neck, especially as the transfer window rolls by and it appears the Union have very little financial flexibility.

They have also spent $750,000 on two newcomers Steven Vitoria and Fernando Aristeguieta, while promising, have been injury plagued. The Union simply haven't gotten a good return on those investments this season.

And of course we must turn to Sebastian Le Toux and Andrew Wenger, two offensive players who account for roughly 1/7th of the team's entire cap. They have just 3 goals and 5 assists between them despite logging over 2,700 minutes on the wings. The Union simply can't afford to spend that much of their cap for that kind of offensive production.

Four players who started on the bench and have been key contributors: Brian Carroll, Richie Marquez, Zach Pfeffer, and Eric Ayuk combine to make $320K, which is not much more than what both Wenger and Le Toux make.

There is plenty of waste to go around when looking at the Union salaries. When you think about the over $1.6M spent on Aristeguieta, Vitoria, Le Toux, Wenger and M'Bolhi and think of the production of that unit, it's a miracle the Union are even as good as they are. It's obvious M'Bolhi will be gone eventually but the Union have big decisions to make at the end of this year related to the other four. They absolutely have to get production for that money, especially since they won't be among the big spenders in the league. If they sign Aristeguieta he will count significantly more against the cap. If they keep Le Toux, Wenger or Vitoria they need to make sure they will get the production to make it worth the money.

If they want to improve the overall talent on the team they have to stop overpaying for unproductive players.