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Ten Players Who Should Replace Graham Zusi

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We try to limit ourselves to just ten players who are a better deal financially than Graham Zusi is to Sporting Kansas City.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With the annual Major League Soccer salary release coming out a few weeks ago I started to notice how good of deals other teams had for their forwards and wingers compared to Sporting KC. I've already delved into the best values for the money and of course the worst values for the money.

To the dismay of my wife and many other Sporting Kansas City fans, Graham Zusi took the number one spot on the worst values list. For the 2016 season he makes an astounding $732,102.27 in guaranteed compensation. It's not like that is that much money in comparison to other pro sports in America or for soccer players abroad, but it's more about what that money has gotten the team.

In 2016 Zusi has played in 12 games with 11 starts for a total of 992 minutes. In that time he has zero goals (he's scored twice for his country in that time) and just three assists. Lest we think this is a one-year slump, 2015 isn't any better. He had 25 appearances (22 starts), 1986 minutes, two goals and five assists. 2013 (6G/8A) and 2014 (5G/8A) were better, but nothing like his breakout year of 2012 when he had five goals and a whopping 15 assists. Would I pay north of $700K for that production? Absolutely.

Before we get into the list, a few caveats. If Graham Zusi made his salary of $383,250.00 as he did before the 2014 World Cup, I'd have much less of an issue with his lack of production. That said, that's still a lot of money for three assists half way through a season. Another point is we'll again being using the "guaranteed compensation" number instead of the base salary for the below players since the numbers can vary so much.

I'd also like to point out that I'm not saying we trade Zusi for these guys. To get rid of Zusi's bloated salary you'd have to take a hit on what you get in return, not steal one of these likely underpaid players. Last note, I've limited this list to ten players. I had 20 and could have probably found more with some of the very low salaries around the league. Without further delay, let's get to the ten players who I'd rather have than Graham Zusi right now.

#1 - Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas) - $170,750

First, this is completely unrealistic. It's rumored that FC Dallas have been offered a transfer fee of around $3.3 million for Castillo. Sporting KC aren't going to pay that (nor will probably any other MLS club). Not to mention Dallas isn't going to sell or trade a player to a Western Conference opponent.

As for the reasons I want him, it's probably obvious. He is blazing fast and incredibly creative with the ball. Castillo is actually having a bit of a down year with only four goals and three assists. That said, his speed would open up the game for SKC. Outside of Jimmy Medranda, no one is really blazing fast for Sporting. That speed can stretch the field and open up the middle for Dom Dwyer. This is something SKC have been missing for years (and a reoccurring theme in the first few names on my list).

In the five years Castillo has been in Dallas he has 33 goals and 28 assists from the winger spot. He would fill the need for a true winger that often goes unaddressed as Peter Vermes continues to either play midfielders out wide (Brad Davis and Graham Zusi) or center forwards (Krisztian Nemeth -- though I'd take him back in a heart beat).

#2 - Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake) - $175,000

Plata is having a break out season. Of course he plays for our hated rivals and they will never deal him to SKC (hey, didn't we say that about Brad Davis too). Despite missing several games with injuries, Plata has still scored five goals and added six assists. It doesn't hurt that he has another good winger in Burrito Martinez on the opposite wing or the fact that he also is incredibly fast.

Plata is also just 24-years-old (like Castillo) and has years of getting better ahead of him. Zusi on the other hand is 29 and just about to hit the dreaded 30 number.

#3 - Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps) - $157,000

Manneh plays on yet another Western Conference foe and actually comes in at just 21-years-old. He has become a consistent starter this year after having most of his success in 2015 from the bench or in spot starts. In 2016 he already has five goals and two assists and is a steal at his price. For comparison, Justin Mapp makes nearly twice as much as Manneh and has just 22-minutes on the field with no goals or assists. Trade for this man!

#4 - Kevin Molino (Orlando City SC) - $121,400

Orlando City fans have known for years about Kevin Molino. Even before Orlando joined MLS in 2015 he was on their USL side and he was causing havoc. He actually broke Dom Dwyer's USL goal scoring record in 2014 (after Dom set it in 2013). In MLS Molino doesn't always play as a "winger" so to speak, but Orlando typically just employs one striker and the wide midfielders play up the pitch. Molino has also replaced Kaka as the center attacking midfielder when he was injured, but I could absolutely see Zusi doing that if Feilhaber was hurt.

So agree or disagree, Molino could probably play a winger if he was in a 4-3-3 system. So far in 2016 he has six goals and five assists. At his price tag he comes in well under Jacob Peterson. I'd make that trade all day (not that Orlando want Jake) but you get the idea. Molino is also still just 26-years-old but does have a history of injuries (he missed most of 2015). So you are probably thinking I'm only targeting young guys. Let's remedy that.

#5 - Mike Grella (New York Red Bulls) - $155,000

Grella is the exact same age as Graham Zusi at 29-years-old. That's where the comparisons end. Grella played overseas and then for the Carolina Railhawks (NASL) before latching on with the Red Bulls last year. Since then he has been outstanding. This year he already has six goals and three assists and basically plays the same left wing spot Zusi shares with Brad Davis. Grella has shown great skill on the ball and the ability to beat a defender one on one while still doing the job of a winger and serving in balls for Bradley Wright-Phillips.

#6 - Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact) - $425,000

I was stunned to see what Piatti makes. Sure, he's on the wrong side of 30 (31) but he's been nothing short of great in 2016. Much like Molino, he slips inside at times to play the more attacking midfielder role, but he spends a good deal of his time out wide left. So far this season he has nine goals (better than our main striker Dwyer, who has eight) and three assists. He is one of the highest paid players on the list, but by no means does he make that much money. Piatti actually reminds me of an older Krisztian Nemeth (or should I say Nemeth is a younger Piatti) in the way he can take on a player (or players) with the ball at his feet. Just incredible.

#7 - Michael Barrios (FC Dallas) - $70,000

Barrios is still just 25-years-old but he is like lightening in a bottle. Much like the diminutive Joao Plata, what these guys lack in size they make up for in speed and skill on the ball. Barrios shoots up and down the side of the field and has created plenty of chances with that speed. He has five goals and an assist on the year even if he has cooled off as of late. For $70K he's getting paid like a backup but playing starter minutes with starter results. Some would say SKC need assists from their wingers but Davis and Zusi only have three (all from Zusi) on the year and Saad Abdul-Salaam actually leads the team with his four assists.

Of all the players I've mentioned so far, Barrios may be one Sporting could acquire. Dallas has so many good and young players, there is probably someone waiting in the wings to replace Barrios that we don't even know about. If SKC could find some combination of assets to give up, Barrios could get a big raise and still be worth it.

#8 - Dominic Oduro (Montreal Impact) - $235,000

Oduro is another "old guy" on the list despite being just 30-years-old. Much like many of the other options I've listed, he's fast. He's really fast. So far in 2016 he has four goals and five assists and has spent much of the season out wide. His numbers may be a little padded as he did play center forward before Didier Drogba re-assumed that role a few weeks into the season. He is without a doubt less effective as a winger, but he has that ability to take on defenders and cut in centrally, which Dom Dwyer could sure use to pull defenders off of him. Plus, Oduro's hair is really cool.

#9 - Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union) - $411,000

Pontius is another like-for-like guy that is exactly 29-years-old and he's experiencing a bit of a career resurgence. He has been known to be injury prone over the years, so this could be a bit of a one-off season. At over $400K he is the highest risk on the list. Despite that he has six goals and four assists for a resurgent Philadelphia Union team. If it was a straight up trade for Zusi, I'd probably do that for the cap relief alone (though Zusi's cap hit cannot exceed the league maximum of $457,500). If Pontius got hurt again, I'd quickly look like an idiot. Let's stick to the other nine options on the list despite how good Chris has looked.

#10 - Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo) - $756,250

Barnes is the only player on the list making more than Zusi. That said, despite him having what I would consider to be a down year (just in minutes, not production), he's still contributed more than Zusi. He has four goals and two assists and is two years younger than Zusi at just 27-years-old. He is a starter for the Jamaican National Team, so he would still miss time as Zusi does for international call-ups (though Jamaica was eliminated earlier from the Copa America).

Barnes is also on a bad Houston team. If he had better people around him (like I would argue he would in KC) he would probably be doing even better. Barnes and Zusi have pretty similar salaries and I'd be for a straight up swap. Before it would have been highly improbable for these two teams to deal with each other, then Brad Davis was traded from the Dynamo to their hated enemy. It won't happen, but it would sure be interesting.

Honorable Mentions (from least to most expensive)

Khiry Shelton (NYCFC) - $94,500

Emmanuel Boateng (Los Angeles Galaxy) - $100,000

Sebastian Lletget (Los Angeles Galaxy) - $115,000

Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution) - $165,000

Lloyd Sam (New York Red Bulls) - $240,000

Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew) - $250,000

Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia Union) - $310,228.13

Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution) - $452,500

Gyasi Zardes (Los Angeles Galaxy) - $472,500

David Accam (Chicago Fire) - $770,937.50

As you can see there are lots of options out there that could have provided more bang for the buck (at least in 2016). To not just pick on Zusi (even though his picture is at the top of the page and his name is in giant letters), it should be noted that Brad Davis has under-performed as well. He has just two goals and no assists on the year, despite being the active assist leader in the league. Here is a full breakdown of the stats of the above referenced players.

Name GP GS Min G A Salary Age
Graham Zusi (SKC) 12 11 992 0 3 $732,102 29
Brad Davis (SKC) 14 9 829 2 0 $355,000 34
- - - - - - - -
Fabian Castillo (FCD) 18 17 1453 4 3 $170,750 24
Joao Plata (RSL) 13 12 1082 5 6 $175,000 24
Kekuta Manneh (VAN) 16 12 1096 5 2 $157,000 21
Kevin Molino (ORL) 14 12 1084 6 5 $121,400 26
Mike Grella (NYRB) 16 14 1239 6 3 $155,000 29
Ignacio Piatti (MTL) 14 14 1259 9 3 $425,000 31
Michael Barrios (FCD) 16 16 1209 5 1 $70,000 25
Dominic Oduro (MTL) 15 14 1236 4 5 $235,000 30
Chris Pontius (PHI) 17 16 1209 6 4 $411,000 29
Giles Barnes (HOU) 10 10 827 4 2 $756,250 27
Davis Accam (CHI) 7 6 567 4 2 $770,937 25
Ethan Finlay (CLB) 15 13 1157 1 5 $250,000 25
Emmanuel Boateng (LAG) 11 6 613 1 2 $100,000 22
Sebastian Lletget (LAG) 15 12 1031 0 3 $115,000 23
Juan Agudelo (NE) 13 6 648 3 2 $452,500 21
Diego Fagundez (NE) 16 13 1171 3 2 $165,000 21
Khiry Shelton (NYC) 13 10 817 2 4 $94,500 23
Lloyd Sam (NYRB) 15 13 1025 1 4 $240,000 31
Sebastien Le Toux (PHI) 17 12 1105 2 5 $310,228

32

Key: GP (Games Played), GS (Games Started), Min (Minutes), G (Goals), A (Assists).

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments or on the twitters (I'm pretty sure that's what the kids are calling it these days).