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Where some see the Vancouver Whitecaps’ spot at the bottom of the salary rankings as a black mark, Axel Schuster sees it as a badge of honour.
“I think that’s a compliment for me,” the team’s CEO and sporting director said Thursday. “We are last in spending in wages, and I think that’s a compliment because if you see the output yesterday in our game, it has nothing to do with spending in salary and wages.
“I think that the times are over and should be over where we have to convince players by money (to come). This is the last argument I want to use to convince somebody to come to Vancouver. I know that wages and money are an important piece for everyone … but I don’t want to convince people by paying more than I think is the right price.”
The Caps’ payroll for 2021 currently sits at US$8.7 million, last in Major League Soccer, and the same slot it occupied in the 2019 season. But that number is also slightly deceiving; it doesn’t account for transfer fees — Vancouver spent more than any other team in CONCACAF in 2020, and Schuster says they’re still top five in MLS — nor the unused Designated Player or Young Money spots, both that would bump Vancouver up the list.
The top five wage-earners, all figures US dollars, on the Whitecaps are: Lucas Cavallini ($1,362,500); Ali Adnan ($1,227,496); Caio Alexandre ($539,583); Erik Godoy ($400,000); and Cristian Dajome ($447,917). Ranko Veselinovic ($445,500); Leo Owusu ($401,250); Janio Bikel ($388,750); Russell Teibert ($387,500); and Deiber Caicedo ($331,125) round out the top 10.
The league’s top five highest-paid players are LAFC’s Carlos Vela ($5,793,750); the Galaxy’s Chicharito ($6 million); Miami’s Gonzalo Higuian ($5,793,750); Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo ($4,693,750); and Atlanta’s Josef Martinez ($3,891,667).
The average MLS spend on salary is $12.29 million, with cash-splashing, rule breaking Inter Miami topping the list at $17.8 million, followed by Toronto FC ($17 million) and the L.A. Galaxy ($16.8 million). The Reds likely top the list now after signing Yeferson Soltedo, who reportedly got a big raise over the $660,000 he was earning with Santos.
The annual salary dumps by the MLS Players Association always generate many talking points, but big wage bills don’t necessarily translate into success in the standings.
Analytics expert Steve Fenn graphically pointed out the tenuous connection between the two in a breakdown of salaries between 2007 and 2019, as well as producing an interactive chart of 2021 MLS wages.
This year, FC Cincinnati is fifth in overall spending ($15.5 million) and the Chicago Fire are sixth ($13.6 million), yet neither side has won a game (0-1-3 and 0-1-2, respectively), sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and have given up 10 and nine goals each — the worst and second-worst totals in MLS. Contrast that with the defending Supporters’ Shield champions, the Philadelphia Union, who are just two spots above Vancouver at $9.3 million.
“My first thing as a sporting director still is … winning. That’s the most important word. And it has nothing to do with spending for me,” said Schuster. “Yes, there is a bigger possibility of success if you spend a lot of money AND and do the things right. But wages are only one small part in it.”
Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-2) vs. Sporting Kansas City (2-1-2)
11 a.m., Children’s Mercy Park. TV: TSN1. Radio: AM 730
He spent on transfer fees for effective players like Owusu and Bikel, but their salaries are relatively low. Left-back Cristian Gutiérrez has been one of their most productive players, and he’s only paid $167,500. Cavallini, the highest-paid Whitecap, checks in at No. 40 on the list of 72 players making $1 million or more. Adnan is 48th, although he’s the highest-paid defender in the league.
The league has skewed toward being top-heavy, with the DPs and TAM players taking the lion’s share of the salaries. Miami, by example, invests 70 per cent of its payroll in just five players.
Schuster eschews that team-building model for one that is more balanced, and has even suggested the league establish a general salary cap and allow teams to spend it as they wish, instead of being hamstrung by having to spend in silos.
The team is taking its time finding the biggest missing piece, the offensive generator who will fill their last DP spot. The primary transfer window closes June 1, but the second opens July 7. Signing a player in the secondary window would save the club on its budget charge — a DP signed in the primary window has a hit of $612,500, as opposed to $306,250 in the second.
Another wrinkle is the release of the Gold Cup dates in mid-July, which could see Vancouver severely short-handed with up to eight players being called away to national team duty.
But, wary of the visa situation that has already robbed the team of the services of Adnan until at least the latter part of June, Schuster would like to find that player soon.
“I always think to do things rushed, if you are getting too desperate for one position or the need of one player, it’s always dangerous. It’s hard to correct mistakes if you do them in that moment,” said Schuster. “We would like to do it as soon as possible that the player can come here and train with us and adapt to us, and also be with us, and to help us as soon as he is ready.
“Again, with the performance of the team, we were feeling comfortable to find the best possible deal that still keeps us very low in the wages range.
“The one thing that doesn’t work … is to do things totally different for different player groups. To treat three-quarters of your squad that way, and one-quarter in a different way, it has all to fit together.
“We have not found the right deal or the right option. So we are continuing to also look. It can happen soon, or it could take us another month, until we find it. But we are still very optimistic.”
Player/Base salary/Guaranteed compensation
(All figures in US dollars.)
• Lucas Cavallini, F: $1,100,000/$1,362,500.
• Ali Adnan, D: $1,149,996/$1,227,496.
• Caio Alexandre, M: $500,000/$539,583.
• Erik Godoy, D: $450,000/$450,000.
• Cristian Dajome, F: $400,000/$447,917.
• Ranko Veselinovic, D: $360,000/$445,500.
• Leonard Owusu, M: $350,000/$401,250.
• Janio Bikel, M: $350,000/$388,750.
• Russell Teibert, M: $350,000/$387,500.
• Deiber Caicedo, M-F: $300,000/$331,125.
• Maxime Crepeau, GK: $250,000/$277,500.
• Jake Nerwinski, D: $255,000/$270,000.
• Jasser Khmiri, D: $240,000/$240,000.
• Bruno Gaspar, D: $200,000/$233,333.
• Cristian Gutiérrez, D: $150,000/$167,500.
• Tosaint Ricketts, F: $160,000/$165,000.
• Derek Cornelius, D: $127,050/$139,001.
• Andy Rose, M: $132,000/$132,000.
• Evan Newton, GK: $95,000/$104,802.
• Ryan Raposo, M: $90,000/$104,000.
• Michael Baldisimo, M: $89,513/$91,275.
• Thelonius Bair, F: $81,375/$81,375.
• Simon Colyn, M: $81,375/$81,375.
• Thomas Hasal, GK: $81,375/$81,375.
• Kamron Habibullah, M-F: $63,547/$74,429.
• Damiano Pecile, M: $66,724/$72,818.
• Matteo Campagna, D-M: $63,547/$72,559.
• Gianfranco Facchineri, D: $66,724/$68,724.
• Isaac Boehmer, GK: $66,724/$66,724.
• Patrick Metcalfe, M: $66,724/$66,724.
• Javain Brown, D: $63,547/$63,547.
• David Egbo, F: $63,547/$63,547.