There likely isn't a professional sports league with as large a disparity between the highest earners and the lowest earners as Major League Soccer. There are guys pulling in multi-millions, guys like David Beckham and Torsten Frings, then guys like Jose Angulo and Tyler Ruthven making just over $33,000.
With that disparity, there are always going to be guys who earn their keep and guys who don't, guys who deserve a raise and guys who aren't worth what they're getting paid.
So who goes where? Let's find out using newly released numbers from the MLS Players Union.
Overpriced, Under-played: Rafael Marquez ($4.6 million)
Not a shock, but here are the numbers in perspective. With 792 minutes in 12 appearances, Marquez is getting paid $383,333 per appearance, or $5,808 per minute. The Red Bulls are 7-1-3 with Marquez in the line-up, but the Red Bulls have a ton of depth on the back line. In the midfield, Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill are forging quite the partnership.
To be blunt, Marquez is an aging, oft-hurt and overpaid piece the Red Bulls could replace for a fraction of the cost.
Pay the Man His Money: Ryan Meara, Connor Lade (both $33,750), Brandon Barklage ($44,566)
Even with all the high-priced, experienced players in the Red Bulls line-up, two underpaid rookies made their mark this season. Ryan Meara stepped into the top goalkeeping spot and, until his surgeries, was a rookie of the year frontrunner. Connor Lade proved extremely versatile with a massive work rate and showed a maturity in his game most his age don't have.
Barklage was on the scrap heap, but he's certainly made the most of his second chance at a soccer career, asserting himself into the line-up while the team was bandaged up and only coming out when he, himself got hurt.
All three players have had an outsized impact based on their salaries and all three are deserving of a raise.
Could Take a Pay Cut: Victor Palsson ($90,000), Teemu Tainio ($205,000), Roy Miller ($112,495)
Victor Palsson is still young. But then again, Victor Palsson spent most of this season on the bench and, as of late, he's been loaned out to NEC in the Eredivisie. The 21-year-old midfielder has some potential, but not $90,000 a year potential, especially with players like Lade making a mark.
Former Tottenham Hotspur man Teemu Tainio would likely only come to MLS for that salary, and while he's a skilled player, his age is showing and his body is proving frail. He's only recently been healthy enough to make 12 appearances this year. Not quite $205,000 worthy.
Roy Miller simply isn't worth over $100,000. He's got Wilman Conde, Heath Pearce and Brandon Barklage ahead of him on the depth chart. That's a lot of money tied up in a fourth string right back.
Seems About Right: Kenny Cooper ($292,500), Dax McCarty ($149,375)
Cooper has put the ball in the back of the net 16 times this season, good for third in the league. He's rarely hurt and regardless if he starts or comes on as a sub, he makes an impact. Yes, his goal total is a bit inflated playing next to Thierry Henry, but let's not downplay his ability to get into spaces that allow Henry to find him. If it was that easy, why was Sebastien Le Toux having such a hard time?
McCarty has really asserted himself as the team's best defensive midfielder. He's supplanted guys like Tainio and Marquez in that position, while molding his game to play next to them. As mentioned before, Cahill and McCarty seem to like playing next to each other. His ability to play in multiple roles in multiple circumstances really makes him worth his salary.
Seems Like a Good Investment: Tim Cahill ($3.6 million), Lloyd Sam ($140, 250)
Both players have played a limited number of games this year, but both players seem like they're worthwhile investments. Cahill is always in the mix offensively and always threatening on set pieces. Even if he doesn't score on corners or free kicks, the attention the defense has to pay him opens up opportunities for other players. He's also adapted himself to the deeper role Hans Backe wants him to play.
As for Sam, our scouts in England were right, there is a real sense of excitement when he's on the ball. He's got the speed and the passing ability to be the Dane Richards 2.0 many thought he could be when he came over. Whether or not he can play this weekend is still in question, but when he's in the line-up the team is undoubtedly better.
Other Players of Note
Wilman Conde, $141,666
Bill Gaudette, $63,255
Makus Holgersson, $190,000
Stephen Keel, $65,000
Sebastien Le Toux, $169,000
Joel Lindpere, $195,000
Heath Pearce, $301,999
Luis Robles, $46,500
Jan Gunnar Solli, $185,000