The Buck-Fifty Starting XI: The Cheapest Competitive MLS Side I Could Build
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Wednesday, 11 March 2009 02:51
Anyone kicking around BigSoccer already knows that the Major League Soccer (MLS) Players' Union (MLSPU) has released most of the salaries for the coming 2009 season—and I love them for it. They have also probably picked through the list for shockers on ends high and low of the market and there's plenty there for that. Cheapskate that I am, I wound up thinking harder about the low-end, specifically, how cheaply I could build a 24-player roster that would be competitive in MLS?

While I make no great claim to originality—people do roughly the same thing in these magical things called "fantasy leagues"—this self-assigned project proved remarkably edifying. The simple act of picking through the numbers teaches one plenty about how MLS teams value various players—more on that before unveiling the Buck-Fifty Starting XI—but, no less significantly, it also teaches the architect of said shabby team what HE (or she) actually thinks of any given player. To give an example, I defend Alan Gordon all the damn time, but when push came to shove, a hell of a lot of players rank above him in my world.

While this exercise taught a number of things, none of them hit home the way a whole slew of trades suddenly added up. Take James Riley: sure, 8 out of 10 BigSoccer posters cite salary and cap issues every time a guy gets traded, but I've never read an entry that framed the question to get at the ultimate issue: Riley makes $72,625 guaranteed compensation. Why's that a big deal? It gives a team a proven player, and a decent one, who can play in both defense and midfield. The same goes for Kelly Gray, who's even cheaper at $46,222.13. Set aside what you think of the player in pure quality terms and that's a steal for what any given team gets. Hell, this even explains Jovan Kirovski - at least this year - because he's only making $80K. Like I said, I've read numbers a million times, but this has never quite turned over. Some players are crazy steals, even if they're nothing like tops.

It's also kinda weird knowing exactly—and I mean down to the penny a shocking number of times—what these guys earn per annum.

More lessons lurk in there, but, in keeping with the Brevity Project (which will get broken), the time has come to name the Buck-Fifty Starting XI. By way of mechanics, I'll name the roster first with brief explanations for each player provided after. When that's done, I'll name my starting XI. And, please, feel free to post your own selection; try to underbid me, or, what the hell, just do the best you can under the salary cap. So long as you follow the league, it doesn't take all that long and you'll learn a lot about how you rate players and what you value on a's crazy...really.

One last item for the record: this team would cost $1,490,641,641.04. That comes in at $809,358.9 below cap...plenty of room for upgrades should they prove necessary (I'm guessing they would).

Will Hesmer ($77K): If last year never happened, he wouldn't be here. But, between leadership and shot-stopping, Hesmer showed a lot last season.
Dan Kennedy ($50K): He's good enough to start, as proved last season, and even better depth - especially at that price.
Josh Wicks ($42K): I've seen Wicks bone a healthy number of plays, but I've also seen him make more. At that price...yep.

Sean Franklin ($76,850): By my estimation, Franklin's ahead of the that price too.
James Riley ($72,625): Explained above; depth, depth, depth.
Patrick Ianni ($72K): One doesn't sniff at a player who has played credibly in Houston's back-line well more than once.
Dasan Robinson ($46,856.25): After resisting the temptation to just add the Chicago Fire's defense - which is cheap - I picked and chose.
Gonzalo Segares ($64,019.50): Still one of the great bargains in MLS.
Chris Tierney ($34K): Someone called him "Baby Beckham" and he's good for it based on what I've seen of him.
Kosuke Kimura ($52.5K): A good solid right back, good speed, good brain...and, yep, cheap.
Mike Petke ($80,000.04): Enough talent and veteran leadership for my young defensive line.

Brad Evans ($44.5K): Yes, depth kind of keeps me up at night...and he's the king, especially at his age.
Dax McCarty ($68,105): I'm expecting these to grow more controversial as I move up the field. For me, though, McCarty has the goods to really pitch in on offense...and that's hard to find at cut-rate prices.
Marco Pappa ($42K): So I'm buying a guy I've never seen...again, the price, which leaves me entirely willing to take a chance.
John Thorrington ($64,875): The run-all-day player meets veteran leadership; he's been around.
Stuart Holden ($34,728.75): Worth the gamble, even absent a guarantee he's up for running the attack.
Pat Phelan ($34,650): We have our bruiser...and not a bad one.
Santino Quaranta ($72.5K): I believe in Quaranta's desire, a low-risk proposition on a number of levels, but he's talented and, I suspect anyway, would flourish if he knew he'd own the reins.
Corey Ashe ($34,650): Another bargain I to which I couldn't say no; this isn't the fastest bunch.
Andy Williams ($84K): More veteran leadership and if he has an equal coming off the bench, I've never heard of him.

Forwards (aka, where I finally spend real money)
Chris Rolfe ($100,250): It's hard to beat his versatility in the attack and he's got hella talent and a powerful shot, even if his size is lacking - plus he's a hungry fella.
Yura Movsisyan ($70,582): Another gamble, but he gives defenses a lot oflooks...and, in honesty, a lot of time to clean the ball off his toe...too much dribbling, but it's worth the chance. Adam Cristman ($34,650): Easily the hardest pick for forward - I almost splurged and went with Conor Casey - but Cristman intrigues me and I think he'll come good besides.
Alejandro Moreno ($137,300): Not a block-busting goal scorer, but he does so much for any team he's on.

Now, the starting XI....which will prove hard here and there:

GK: Hesmer

Left Back: Gonzalo Segares
Central: Patrick Ianni
Right Back: Dasan Robinson

Left Mid: Santino
Central: Pat Phelan
Central: Dax McCarty
Central: Santino Quaranta
Right Mid: John Thorrington

CF: Chris Rolfe
ST: Alejandro Moreno

One last note: naturally, this is a team that could never be fielded; the odds of getting all 24, never mind my starting eleven, are higher than Jeff Spicoli.

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