Maths Apology: Which 2015 Fire Players Earned Their Salaries?

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Chicago shed a lot of player contracts last week as new GM Nelson Rodriguez and new coach Veljko Paunovoic freed up as many dollars as possible for the upcoming MLS post season scramble.

As Phase One of the Re-Entry draft begins it’s worth taking a look at how the 2015 Fire performed in context to their MLS salaries.

This may sound familiar, because we did the same thing last year at about this time.  So… another year, another stack of MLS Salary and Sqwakwa data to sift through.  So let’s get started.

Here is Chicago Fire’s Salary vs Performance Graph, 2015:

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Each dot represents a player that completed the season with Chicago.  Red dots are contracts that Chicago did not renew, green dots are renewed player contracts, and blue dots are existing contracts.

The vertical axis  is a measurement of player performance based on each player’s average OPTA-based Sqwakwa score this season. The average Sqwakwa score is 15, so the 0-point in the vertical axis is a rating of 15. The best-performing players on the graph are highest up  (Jeff Larentowicz, I know, we’ll get into it later), and worst-performing players are at the bottom of the graph (Alec Kann, he gone).

The horizontal axis represents MLS Player Salaries (Note: Not Chicago Fire’s average salary, but the league’s average salary.)  This year’s average MLS salary was $226,454 so the left-to-right. (Up from $207,831 last year, and yes, most of that money goes to the MLS Designated one-percenters).

The measurement of both salary and performance data are through indices, meaning that a “+2” is 200% more than the average salary, and a “-1” in scoring is 100% less (or half) of the average.

 

 

Top Right (Above Average Salaries, Above Average Performances)

This corner is for closers. It’s for the guys that are supposed to be the best on the team, they perform well, and they get paid big dollars to do so.

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  • Captain Jeff “Big Red” Larentowicz, on average, was the best performing player in 2015.  Go ahead and read this great HTIOT article on how much he has suffered for this team, and come back.  Not only did JL have the highest average performance score, but he is BARELY above the league average salary.  He’s been a great value. It’s worth mentioning that because Big Red took our penalties, he got a lot of team-earned (Read: Accam-earned) peno points which may inflate his score a bit.
  • Oh, hey, there’s Gilberto.  He is KILLING, but he’s also killing it in the wallet area. As a true DP, Gilly is making 400%+ more than your average MLS schlub, but he is also producing.  This is just about where he should be, so kudos for Fire offices to make this pickup.
  • David Accam is here too.  The Tempestuous One could try to be a bit more consistent though… Accam wound up having a moderately above-average performance this year but he is DRASTICALLY unreliable. King David’s performance score deviated more than any other Fire player who played more than a few seconds at the end of a match. (Remember Victor Perez?)
  • Also, peeking in from the far left is Razvan Cocis who makes 0.09% over the average MLS salary, but out-performed the average player by 31%. Along with Larentowicz, the Fire did not choose to resign Cocis last moth with age being their shared trait.

It is strange though, for Chicago to dismiss two of the six players on their roster that played above average soccer in 2015, especially for a pair whose salaries were just barely above the league’s modest middle ground. Larentowicz, no doubt, wants to move on as an MLS free agent where he’ll have a say and a pay bump wherever he lands. Cocis, with a contract that’s relatively meager (and with his new Green Card in hand) will land softly on a team that has the money for an older midfielder with a few games left in him.

 

Top Left (Below Average Salaries, Above Average Performances)

If you’re a Technical Director/Head Coach/Scout, this is the corner you talk about when begging to keep your job.  These are the guys that are performing above the league average, and are being paid below it.  Chicago has two of them.

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  • No surprise to find Harry Shipp here. Despite his slight decline over the 2014 campaign, Harry is still making peanuts (Thanks Homegrowns!) and playing about a +.25 better than your average global soccer player.
  • Right next to him (and riding shotgun in their carpool) is Eric Gherig.  Gherig has the kind of intangibles your root for when you see (and hear) him during live action so his presence in the “above average” category here feels good. Good on him, and good on Brian Bliss who brought him along from Columbus.

 

Bottom Right (Above Average Salaries, Below Average Performances)

The groaners… the ones you scream “My ticket pays your salary” to… the head-shakers… Chicago has four of them.

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  • You could describe Mike Magee‘s contribution to the 2014 season as intermittent, expensive, but effective. You could describe his 2015 season as highway robbery.  Magic Mike should seriously consider taking a job at the Chicago Board of Trade, because I’ve never seen a buy-low/sell-high executed with such ruthless acumen.  But put his output and earnings in context to Igbo!
  • If watching a ton of YouTube compilation videos makes you a scout (and by that logic, I am a scout), Kennedy Igboananike was a scout’s dream. His failure to finish clinically this year was frustrating, but it went to ludicrous levels in July when the Players Union released salary information. Iggy was set to make nearly a million dollars of guaranteed money in 2015.  Yeesh. Thankfully MLS’s Targeted Allocation Money allows you to “pay down” DPs — which amounts to an NBA-style amnesty clause — albeit one where you’re still stuck with the toxic-ish contract.
  • Adailton… Sup man?  The oafish center back was actually not terrible this year, and you can mark that as a complement.  His failures this season occurred at big, memorable moments, and that’s hard to neutralize with statistical analysis.  The fact is the big Brazilian was pretty okay.  Yes, he was paid an above average salary. Yes, his player performance was below average, BUT BARELY.  In fact, his performance/salary is not that far from Patrick Nyarko’s who is generally believed to have done well this season through injury.
  • Remember when Sean Johnson was a U.S. Men’s National Team starting goal keeper?  There was a time S.J. was our trade bait and the city was excited about seeing what English Championship team we would be following after the deal. Well… he had a bad season last year, and he had a worse season this year.  He still has amazing flashes of brilliance (like the Philadelphia Union game), but he is truly struggling.  SJ saw the bench a lot this year as Jon Busch went between the poles. Now,  SJ’s goalkeeper coach, Aaron Hyde, was fired on Black Thursday. Things don’t look good.

 

Bottom Left (Below Average Salaries, Below Average Performances)

Welcome to the Valley of the Real. This quadrant, where the vast majority of players on the Fire 2015 roster are, is the corner where players are underpaid, and underpaid for a reason. If you’re in this corner you’re either under contract for another season, young, or fired. In this quadrant Chicago only kept two of the ten players they had an option to re-sign — both of them (Doody & Polster) were first year players.

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  • Alec Kann is a goalkeeper, but he is no longer one for Chicago. That is all.
  • Jon Busch is a servant and a saint, but he is no longer a Fire keeper… perhaps he could come back as a coach?  Busch played, on average, poorer than Sean Johnson but he played more consistently.  He’s nearing the point in his career that he may not be a backup anymore.
  • Patrick Doody is back. He didn’t blow anyone away, but he is at league minimum salary, lead his loan team StlFC in assists from left back, and offers more as a “stay at home” full back than either Greg Cochrane or Joevin Jones.
  • Cochrane will likely find a happy home on an NASL or USL team.  On the left touchline Doody offers more as a full full back, and Jones offers more going forward, and there’s not much  room for a third LB/LM for a team that is porous everywhere.
  • Oft-injured Ty Harden, who joined Chicago in exchange for Quincy Amarikwa, is off to experience the wondrous world of MLS Free Agency for a his last moderate-sized splash.
  • 19 year-old Colin Fernandez played a total of 6 minutes this year, he makes very little dollars, and those dollars do not hit against the Fire’s salary cap, so he’s fine.
  • Cyrus was, thankfully, a Trinidadian loan.  Pulled in because of the Fire’s need to find some defense, he will head back to where he came from.
  • Jason Johnson, acquired from Houston for Alex, had some excellent highlights including clutch goals against Seattle and Coloumbus. With his Generation Adidas contract ending, however, he’ll be expensive and likely not worth the cost… Re-Entry it is!
  • It seems that Chris “War Games” Ritter never got a real shot this year. Every time he looked like he was going to get some real minutes something happened.  And THEN when he finally got the starting nod in the season closer, he got injured almost immediately. Ritter may be the Moonlight Graham of MLS. Of all the players whose contracts were not renewed the Ritter dismissal seemed harshest.  As a homegrown, he made a minuscule $60k which didn’t affect the Cap (like Chicago is worried about hitting the Cap) and with his size he seemed like a candidate for center back conversion if defensive midfield wasn’t working.  Why get rid of this guy?
  • Lovell Palmer was the poster child for this article last year.  The fans still like him but his performance is declining.  Palmer couldn’t seem to get to the end line to cross all season, and his utility playing either right and left back is irrelevant now that Jones and Doody can punch the clock on the left and Matt Polster and Gherig are capable if not spectacular on the right. Dude still has the best pony tails in the business.
  • This is a curious one. By my count (and by the USMNT u23’s) Matt Polster is a bright and shining young star.  As a one-man midfield pep squad that  loves a bit of yellow, it’s possible OPTA has no metric to possibly measure the greatness of Matt Polster. Shame on you OPTA.  Everyone loves this guy.
  • When you watch Matt Watson finish sprint after sprint in first place during sideline drills, you will realize what an impressive soy-fueled machine he is.  Watson is another guy that isn’t super great, but a legitimate utility guy that provides depth to a bench. Fire ditching his services likely means they think their $91k could be better spent elsewhere. Frankly, renegotiating player salaries below $100k seems a bit miserly and perhaps the club knows this too.

 

Below the Line but Above the Trend

The old saying goes: If you’re being attacked by a bear you don’t have to outrun it, you just have to run faster than someone you’re camping with. 

We all see what Joevin Jones is capable of. He did wane a bit as the season progressed but he is clearly a better option that Cochrane, and surprisingly was earning just $6k more than him.  In other words… Greg Cochrane should hope there are no bears roaming around Saint Louis F.C.  

To Note: It’s not always damning to wind up below average. Every team needs a bunch of players that can play there role, and Chicago is no different… just stay above the team trend.

Shown in purple below, the trend line represents Chicago Fire’s salary vs performance in the context of their full team budget and output. There are a few other pretty darn good players that find themselves on the wrong side of the “Avg Player Performance” line, but many of them wound up on the plus side of the trend line.

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When players like Jones (and Polster and Michael Stephens and Patrick Nyarko) are playing at good but not great levels with respect to their compensation… they’re still worth keeping.  It is not a coincidence then, that only one of nine players on or below that tend line had their option picked up by Chicago.

Good times.

Next week we’ll look at how Fire players progressed during the Yallop era and we’ll also look at how players that left Chicago since 2014 have done.

 

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Follow @OTFSoccer

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OTF Contributor Brian Howe Battle is a Chicago local and will always use the word “soccer”. Follow Brian on Twitter at @OwenGoal.

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