Thursday, November 22, 2012

Crew Midfield, MLS Value Conversation

The more time I spend with on this type of analysis the more things start jumping out at me. It's especially apparent now that I've reviewed the Crew Defenders and Midfield. While the specific numbers matter to me, the simpler way to look at this is to call a players contract either a "Hit" or "Miss".

It's great that there are some players far exceeding contract but what is also impressive are those players that demand larger contracts and perform up to that level. Going back to my last post real quick, you'll notice two players that were definite salary / contract "Hits" in Sebastian Miranda and Carlos Mendes and three decidedly "Miss" in James, Vukovic, and Marshall.

Looking at the group as a whole it's easy to say that the Crew missed on the entire backline with contracts falling -$(195,506) to the red. That actually puts them 14th in the league (not good) in regards to the backline (TFC, COL, VAN, PHI) territory. However, upon closer inspection I see that C. Marshall makes up 89% of that deficit.

Similar tale to tell here with the Crew midfield. The players at this position carry a contract deficit of -$(186,126) and through not much fault on his own, Dilly Duka makes up 74% of it (reminder: I always use 'guaranteed contract'). Duka is coming of Generation Adidas graduation and appears to be saddled with a heavily incentivised contract. It is very possible that the 'herky-jerky' nature of his playing time was due to this. Has the Robert Warzycha and Co. ruined a talented player here? I have a feeling we will find out very soon when/if he suits up for another club and plays his natural central MF spot.

Other midfield contract misses are Milovan Mirosevic, Danny O'Rourke and possibly Chris Birchall. Mirosevic's $223,000 is 28% too high in my book. I value him at a healthy $160k, which is significantly above league median of $110k, which means he added value but he did not live up to this heavy price tag.

In fact, no midfielder in MLS really lives up to a salary that high when looking a value based on performance. My analysis shows that anything over $215k might be too high for a MF player in MLS. Or, another way to put that is to say; that if you are a team looking at a offering a contract above $200k... don't, the risk far outweighs the return you will likely get.

As for the contract "Hits" I show Eddie Gaven and Tony Tchani. Now, Gaven is a solid Hit. I rank him as the 3rd best MF in MLS this year. Tchani's hit is a bit of a strange thing, but it makes sense upon closer inspection. MLS is littered with midfield players. Almost 200 different players saw time there (compared with 150 Defenders, 110 Forwards) and a good chunk of them only played in half the games. Only 25% saw more than 2000 minutes compared to 36% of defenders. What this means is the MLS has a lot of midfield players making good money only playing half the time. There are many possible reasons for this, first being that a MF does a lot of running.

That said. This is a 'market value' look at the league so while MLS has a collective problem in searching for the right MF players, Tchani falls into a sweet spot on the list. Here are some of the players around him on my player rating and make similar salary: Gabriel Gomez, Luiz Camargo, David Ferreira, Bobby Convey, Branko Boskovic... Those are some heavy hitters but also some large salaries. All of these players only played in about half their team's games yet make over 200k.

Tony Tchani also has one of these Generation Adidas contracts that tend to out pace player value according to MLS. The difference between his base and guaranteed is $104k and Duka's diff is $130k. That's a lot of added pressure on both player and coach and I can see why MLS is taking a closer look at the GA program (It could be argued that this Adidas program pays correctly and MLS themselves undervalue. I'm not taking that on). Regardless, in my opinion any team with both these players should start them game in / game out. They are talented and will bring wins. Problem with the Crew is that they reached on them before their salary counted towards the cap and now that it does, they realize that, while they are valuable and meet their "Base Salary", they are not worth their heavy guaranteed rates.


Brian Bliss is the Crew Technical Director. On his own, he knows young undiscovered talent (he is connected to that pipeline) but I think he tends to miss on experienced players when he doesn't have the help of folks like Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Looking up and down the list of Crew midfielders it is circumstance might do in Dilly Duka and Tony Tchani while in my opinion the wise cut might be Mirosevic. If the Crew can rework Duka and Tchani's contracts down to where their guaranteed is at base levels they should keep them as they are both worth that.

One other larger contract th Crew have is Chris Birchall. I'm not sure about him, because he came into the season a little late, if is $109k contract has to be paid in full. I am confident that had he been around all season he would have been a "Hit".

Lastly, we have a trio of lower wage midfielders that contributed well above their league mandated minimums. They were

Kevan George
$33,750 salary : 67,500 HB Value

Bernardo Anor
$44,100 salary : 75,833 HB Value

Cole Grossman (released)
$44,100 salary : 67,600 HB Value

Bernardo could very well end up on the defender list next year even though he's only a defender in the eyes of Robert Warzycha. Note: Ethan Finlay is listed as a Forward by Stats, Inc. I will cover him later with that group.


The MF positions in this league seem to be a revolving door and the Crew is no different. This muddies the waters and makes contract evaluation difficult. My recommendation to the Crew would be to work on a consistent and durable MF lineup (and formation) and work from there. Constant change will only make things more difficult to evaluate and therefore reward/compensate appropriately.

The reason this post is in conversational for is because there is very little to ground these players with. You've got GA players with unbalanced contracts, an aging Chilean who never found his rhythm, a talented young leader who requested out, a skillful gazelle who was put into an unnatural left back position and tore his knee apart, and another who very well could be one of the best MLS midfielders of his generation.

The Crew's problem is here - in the midfield. Not so much in that there isn't enough talent, more that it is probably been misused or there is a disconnect between Brian Bliss and the coaching staff.


As I'm finishing this midfield post up and getting ready to head out to meet friends on this day I can't help but think of Kirk Urso and his family. While I'd give a lot to be writing about his performance and what he would contribute to next year - his life reminds us all of what is really important.

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