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Philadelphia Union making the most of their salary budget

The Union are spending the least amount of money per point earned in the standings this season so far

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re working within the confines of one of the smallest player budgets in the league, you can’t afford many misses.

While injury has kept Mexico international Marco Fabian from proving his worth as the highest paid Union player in history at $2.27 million, it’s hard to be critical of the job Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has done stretching the dollars allotted to him by notoriously thrifty majority owner and chairman Jay Sugarman.

At least so far.

At $289,020 per point, the Union have shown through the first half of the season that it’s possible to be among the lower spenders in the league and put together enough talent to be first place in the Eastern Conference through 17 games.

There are many factors at work in these numbers in terms of strength of schedule, number of home games and even the total number of games played but on its face it’s a good sign that Tanner is finding success within the budget constraints he was aware of when he accepted the job.

The total salary figure for the Union is $8,959,605, which despite being a small increase from last season (.5 percent) moved them further down the list league-wide. Just six teams have total compensation that is less than the Union: the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo.

That number was nine in 2018 when the Union were 16th in the league with 23 total teams. They are 18th in the league this year, according to the figures released on the MLSPA website on Wednesday.

The big spenders in the league continue to be Toronto FC ($1.2 million per point earned so far), Chicago Fire ($939k per point) and Supporters Shield-leading LAFC, which has the fourth lowest dollars per point figure at $390,262, something that only illustrates another area the second-year club is dominating the league. When you have the fifth highest payroll and the fourth lowest cost per point you’re clearly doing something right.

As good as the Union have been so far this season, they’ll likely need more production out of both Fabian and third-highest player Sergio Santos in the second half of the season. Fabian and Santos were the biggest off-season acquisitions for the club prior to Jamiro Monteiro’s arrival but they’ve both struggled staying healthy and have yet to perform to the level expected when the team opened their wallet to acquire them.

Fabian has been limited to just eight games and Santos to nine. Monteiro, meanwhile, has been worth every penny of the $569,200 he is being compensated for his standout two-way play in the midfield. Brenden Aaronson has also done quite a bit of work for a player 18th on the team in pay at $95,809.

Kacper Przybylko and Jack Elliott both received six-figure raises, but have still proven to be good value players. More than half of the team’s goals have come from players not in the top seven in compensation, led by Ilsinho and Przybylko, who are eighth and ninth on the list.

How you respond to this news may depend on your feelings of Sugarman’s approach to building a team near the bottom of the pack in total compensation. But it’s hard to argue with how far the team Tanner has assembled has gotten them so far.

Underscoring all of this are the looming questions of whether there will be money to spend in the summer and what the future holds for Monteiro. Will he be another loan player like Borek Dockal who the Union are unable to retain the following the season? And will the team with the current roster still be near the top of the table without adding a piece or two?

The answer to those questions will take time to come. Until then, there’s no reason to be too upset with the figures released on Wednesday.

Dollars Per Point - June 2019

Team Total Salary Total Points Dollars Per Point
Team Total Salary Total Points Dollars Per Point
Philadelphia Union $8,959,605 31 $289,020
Houston Dynamo $7,665,634 24 $319,401
New York Red Bulls $8,301,854 24 $345,911
LAFC $14,439,693 37 $390,262
DC United $10,571,569 27 $391,540
FC Dallas $8,730,844 22 $396,857
Minnesota United $9,180,564 21 $437,170
NYCFC $10,121,503 23 $440,065
Vancouver Whitecaps $8,000,713 18 $444,484
Montreal Impact $12,139,404 27 $449,608
San Jose Earthquakes $9,161,431 19 $482,181
Seattle Sounders $12,621,163 26 $485,429
Atlanta United $12,670,769 26 $487,337
New England Revolution $8,930,469 16 $558,154
Real Salt Lake $10,832,522 19 $570,133
Colorado Rapids $8,937,176 15 $595,812
Orlando City $11,359,974 18 $631,110
LA Galaxy $18,514,139 28 $661,219
Columbus Crew $11,253,387 16 $703,337
Sporting Kansas City $13,013,585 16 $813,349
Portland Timbers $11,786,333 14 $841,881
FC Cincinnati $10,312,162 11 $937,469
Chicago Fire $16,907,430 18 $939,302
Toronto FC $22,122,190 19 $1,164,326