The third round of the 2012 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup saw eight of the 16 participating Major League Soccer teams sent packing by lower-division sides (a record for number, obviously, but not percentage, as half of the field of eight crashed out in 2004′s fourth round). This has led to the usual sturm und drang on the internet, with some fans claiming the results are proof of everything from parity to the necessity of promotion and relegation to the existence of Bigfoot. What usually happens in these instances is MLS teams that lose get pilloried for not trying or not caring enough to put out a representative team. For many teams – like Chicago, which had four games in 11 days – it’s a matter of prioritizing and making best use of rosters that aren’t as robust as in other leagues around the world. But I wanted to see how true the shorthand “Those teams that played more regular players were successful, and those that didn’t, weren’t” really was.
I first looked at league playing time by each of the 16 MLS teams’ first elevens (turns out, yes, there’s a correlation between teams that put a lot of their bench players in the lineup and teams that lost, not a surprise), but then I had an idea: why not total up the salaries of each MLS team’s starting lineups to get a different view of the types of players the teams were putting out there?
Thanks to the MLS Players Union, the salary information is readily available, so it was just a matter of plugging it all in. Turns out there’s a correlation between salaries and success. It’s not perfect, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Of the eight teams that had the most 2012 salary money represented in their first elevens, five won and moved on. Of the eight that were spending the least on their starters, only three were winners.
Here’s the chart of what each of the 16 MLS teams in this year’s Open Cup were spending on base salaries on the 11 players they started in their third round matches:
|New York Red Bulls||$1,535,562.00||$139,596.55||Won|
|Real Salt Lake||$1,083,635.00||$98,512.27||Lost|
|San Jose Earthquakes||$993,212.25||$90,292.02||Won|
|Sporting Kansas City||$959,450.00||$87,222.73||Won|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||$867,200.00||$78,836.36||Lost|
|New England Revolution||$857,675.00||$77,970.45||Tied*|
(We don’t know what the lower division teams’ annual salaries are for comparison, but, rest assured, they’re south of Chicago’s.)
This chart makes Portland’s home loss to Cal FC - an amateur team bankrolled largely by US Soccer legend Eric Wynalda – all the more dramatic and baffling. The Timbers not only had the most expensive player of the round (Kris Boyd, who makes $1.25 million), they spent nearly $800,000 more than the second-place team (New York) and more than Dallas, Columbus and Chicago combined spent on their starters. Seven regulars – those who had played more than 50% of the possible minutes for the Timbers in the league – started for Portland, the highest figure in the league (Philadelphia and Seattle started six each and both won, Los Angeles, New England and Chicago started two among them and all lost).
Again, the correlation isn’t perfect, but Colorado was the only one of the five thriftiest teams that got a result and advanced (New England’s penalty kick defeat at Harrisburg officially counts as a draw). And the Timbers were the only one of the top four most expensive lineups that are out of the competition.
Salt Lake made no secret of being in it to win it, but despite the presence of five regulars and two part-timers, they lost at home to defending NASL champ Minnesota. Houston – which prioritized an important friendly, if there is such a thing, at home tonight against Valencia, fell to expansion NASL side San Antonio. Barring those results, and had Boyd not missed an 80th-minute penalty for Portland, the correlation would have been nearly perfect.
The takeaway? As always, money isn’t everything, but it helps. And when you run out a team of reserves against a hungry lower-division side in a one-off Cup situation, it’s buyer beware.
The full list of annual base salaries of each of the 171 players who started for MLS teams in the third round of the Open Cup is after the jump:
|Jan Gunnar Solli||$185,000.00|
|Juan Pablo Angel||$350,000.00|
|Jhon Kennedy Hurtado||$160,000.00|
|David Junior Lopes||$47,250.00|