So the challenge was simple enough: Pick an MLS starting eleven that which has a total 2010 Guaranteed Compensation under $1,000,000.
The results were simple enough too. A pretty good team, I’d say. (Review it here.)
But as it turns out, the process of choosing the team and some insight about the league that came from it are probably what was the most interesting.
So, let’s look at how the team was picked.
Really, and this is no surprise, a challenge of this nature is mostly an exercise in finding MLS players you think are the biggest discounts and picking a group of them that fit together to play a certain style, or at least effective, soccer.
Staying my course of hoping and dreaming for attractive, inventive soccer, that I aimed for players I hoped could deliver that. I also wanted to focus on balancing the strength of the team across the field, for instance, avoiding deep sacrifices in midfield to pay for a top forward (who would then probably never get good service anyway.)
But, with such a limited budget, goals for attractive soccer and team balance are not easy to achieve.
Frankly, this was probably my easiest choice. Being the beautiful-soccer dreamer that I am, I tend to devalue goalies. I know it’s unfair to them, but so be it.
More than that, Kevin Hartman’s relatively low $80K salary (due to his recent status of being in club limbo?) made this a no brainer. He is proven, experienced and inexpensive. If I weren’t going to get him, I would have gone with a cut-rate discount like Brad Knighton, for $40K.
I’ll admit, I struggled here. Players that made my immediate short-list included: Omar Gonzalez, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jonathan Bornstein, Sean Franklin, Gonzalo Segares, Darrius Barnes, AJ DeLaGarza, Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron.
The Gonzalez choice in particular was troubling, since that places a young player as the anchor in the back-line with a six digit salary being tough to swallow. His future, however, looks bright. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado would have been a slightly less expensive, but also solid choice for that same role.
I have a much better opinion of Bornstein than many USA fans do, and for $100K figured him a sure-thing for my back line. In the end though, I couldn’t pass up the savings that the recently returning Gonzalo Segares offered.
Reliable Geoff Cameron and the speedy Sean Franklin rounded out the back line.
At first, I worried that I’d not find a suitable midfield. It’s clear that the better midfielders are commanding a reasonably high premium in MLS. From a pure value standpoint, the players that jumped out at me were: Brad Evans, Joel Lindpere, Marco Pappa, Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Najar and maybe Andy Williams or Dax McCarty.
Alonso seemed like such a value, that in nearly every iteration I tried, he ended up being my holding midfielder. I was very hopeful to add a crafty, creative central midfielder in front of him – with Arturo Alvarez and Javier Morales being high on the list relative to their costs – but I could not justify the sacrifices I’d need to make elsewhere on the field to accommodate them.
Instead, I went with creativity on the wings (Pappa, Najar) and a box-to-box player in Evans to partner in the center of midfield.
I really wanted Fredy Montero. I think for $180K his creativity would have been a terrific value.
(Yes, for many, another few thousand would get Edson Buddle, who most MLS watchers would then consider a shoe-in when looking at price to production. But despite all the obvious reasons I should be swooning for Edson, I don’t.)
One option would have been to pair, Montero with a cheaper, but hopefully effective, role-player forward. While it might work as an OK complement, I think that a very solid front line combination that forces defenses to focus on two danger-men is more likely to illicit mistakes from over-matched MLS defenders is than a mismatched superstar/bit-player combination.
There are some good, inexpensive choices out there who could play that second-fiddle role, with players like Dominic Odouro, Adam Cristman, Justin Braun and Joseph Ngwenya as examples.
Speed demons Maykel Galindo and (the much maligned) Robbie Findley were compelling values as well.
But in the end, I instead went with the strong and skillful Alvaro Saborio and the fast, powerful and crafty Omar Cummings.
So, that’s my lineup and my rationale. The low salary cap in this challenge, and for MLS generally, typically means taking some risks on younger, less expensive talent. It also means that if you are going “big” on one player, that player had better produce in a very significant way, because you quickly risk balance in other areas of the field to compensate for one large salary.
My risks included a near-rookie back line and a hope that Andy Najar has the kind of future that seems so close to his grasp.
In Part 3, I’ll look at what this value-based selection exercise taught me about MLS, and in particular my hometown New England Revolution.