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Sporting KC close to 2013 MLS salary cap limit

Having a look at how Sporting KC's early 2013 salary cap numbers might look; what do they have left to spend, or are they already strapped for salary cap cash?

Gail Oskin

As the 2013 Major League Soccer season draws nearer and nearer with each passing day, the topics of discussion surrounding Sporting Kansas City becoming less and less about the "who's" and "when's" of signing players, and more about the complex "how's" of MLS' salary cap system.

Sporting KC checked in as the club with the second lowest team salary against the salary cap (ATC) in 2012, according to further numbers released by the MLS Players Union. That factoid is both relevant and irrelevant for a couple of reasons.

For starters, it's a great thing to hear because it sounds like technical director/head coach Peter Vermes and Robb Heineman are wisely spending the collective pool money of MLS allocated to each team for 2012's league-wide salary cap of $2,810,000. Again, that is money paid for by the league. On the other hand, player salaries can be "paid down" ATC by the use of allocation money, which is basically intra-league MLS Monopoly money. Seeing as how Sporting didn't have a DP to bother with buying down in 2012, their projected numbers were probably a bit misleading, given the fact they had ample allocation dollars to reduce their total cap hit.

First, the most important handful of rules in terms of MLS salaries before we get on to projecting and discussing those of the 2013 season:

  1. Players occupying roster spots 1-20 count against the club’s 2012 salary budget of $2,810,000, and are referred to collectively as the club’s Salary Budget Players.
  2. Players occupying roster spots 1-24 will earn at least $44,000 in 2012.
  3. Players occupying roster spots 25-30 will earn at least $33,750 in 2012.
  4. All Generation adidas players are Off-Budget players.
  5. Clubs are responsible for all amounts above the budget charge ($350,000) for all Designated Players.

In attempting to predict salary numbers for the 2013, a general rule of thumb granting most players not re-signing for new contracts somewhere between a 5-10 percent increase in pay, was used. Players that have previously signed new contracts and internationally signed players were given special consideration and extrapolated based on what are understood to be typical operating procedures of MLS and Sporting KC.

Full disclosure: The following numbers are little more than speculation and projections made based on, 1) the 2012 MLS Player Salaries, as released by the MLS Players Union, and 2) a decent handle of 2012 MLS Roster Rules, as released by Major Soccer, and semi-understanding of how contracts and processes within MLS work. Projected numbers will not be spot-on, sometimes five-to-ten percent off.

** Bold-italicized dollar figures denote a player that is not in a roster spot numbered 1-20, therefore does not count against the salary cap. Player is only listed for projected individual salary and not to affect the total numbers as a whole.

First things first, it's not time to freak out yet. Sporting KC are not a broke club, they're not out of money to spend should they unearth a player they so desperately want to sign. The figure of $2,921,172 is before the use of any and all allocation dollars that Sporting possess.

From the MLS rules on Player Acquisition Mechanisms:

  • NOTE: To protect the interests of MLS and its clubs during discussions with prospective players or clubs in other leagues, amounts of allocation money held by each club will not be shared publicly.

That means ever. It's near impossible to even fathom a guess at how much allocation money each or any team holds onto at a given time. Sporting KC, like every other team in the league, possess a certain amount of the allocation money, and can and will use it to buy down salaries of players currently in roster spots 1-20 in the event they need to create cap space for a future signing.

Because we will likely never know the amount of allocation money around the league, it will forever be impossible to precisely pinpoint club salaries, but as the offseason drags on, it's still fun for discussion.

Shipping salary out. The various trades, waivers and free agency of Julio Cesar, Michael Harrington, Roger Espinoza and Neven Markovic netted Sporting KC roughly $590,000 of freed-up salary cap space. Of the players to leave the team this offseason, they were the only four that occupied roster spots 1-20, thus counting ATC.

The changes from 2012 to 2013. Sporting KC, as a whole, were pretty simple to project what changes in contract might be upcoming for each player, with one or two exceptions.

Seth Sinovic, Graham Zusi and CJ Sapong were each signed to "long-term" extensions prior to the 2012 season, and were thus considered specially outside the general 5-10 percent increase. Sinovic's raise from 2011 to 2012 was significant, so that was probably the focal point benefit of that agreement. Sapong, only two seasons into his initial rookie contract, is probably a year away from his extension years really kicking in and paying higher dollars. But Zusi, entering his fifth year in the league, is now clear of his rookie deal, thus the most likely to see a significant increase from year to year. Sinovic, Sapong and Zusi were allocated 5, 10 and 15 percent increases, respectively.

Matt Besler re-signed, but for how much? This is quite the tough question. Also now five years into his professional career, Besler had finished his rookie deal, just like Zusi. Zusi already has the "national team member" negotiation card in his pocket, whereas Besler is still working to obtain his. Outside interest is probably the biggest factor in Besler's contract negotiations outside being obviously an outstanding player. Other American centerbacks in the league held in the same regard as Besler are often paid in the $150,000-and-upwards range, but Besler being loyal to his hometown club and the simple fact that Midwest living is cheap, I settled on the $125,000 range for him, which is a healthy 33 percent raise.

The new guys in town. Of the five new players acquired through various means so far this offseason, Claudio Bieler will obviously find himself the highest paid player, on the entire team in fact. In 2013, Designated Players - of which Bieler is one - will count $367,000 ATC, which is a slight increase from 2012. His complete salary will not be known until sometime in the spring when the MLS Players Union releases new numbers, but it doesn't really matter for this exercise.

Benny Feilhaber is the toughest player on the roster for which to determine a fair and accurate cap figure. The play-making midfielder was a DP for New England Revolution in 2012 with a base salary of $400,000, which means $350,000 went ATC. We already know that Feilhaber will not be a DP in Kansas City, as it was not announced he would be when acquired via trade. Smart money says that Feilhaber, while taking a significant cut in pay with Sporting, will still find himself near the top of the non-DP ranks. A player that Vermes so desperately wanted for a year and a half, he'll not mind paying him enough to keep his new star happy.

Ike Opara entered the league with a significant salary ($100,000 in 2012), but with his Generation adidas contract expiring this offseason and requiring a move to a new club to stay within the league, he'll likely take a small cut in pay. Josh Gardner has nearly ten years in the league, so he'll likely stay in the same range of his 2012 salary of $54,120, if not for a small raise from his new club. Yann Songo'o is a wild card, and honestly a tough one to judge. I put him at $60,000 - similar to Sinovic - for reason being international players command more dollars to come to MLS, and Kansas City in general. He could also very well be an off-book player and not signed to roster spots 1-20.

Next in line for the new deal and sizable bump in pay? Chance Myers has, to the best of my knowledge, yet to sign a long-term contract following his already-completed rookie deal. If 2011 and 2012 weren't proof enough, a standout 2013 could see him pocket a five-figure bump annually.

With 20 players filling spots 1-20, Sporting should be just about finished with their offseason spending spree unless the perfect deal comes along that they just can't turn down. Any additional players added to the roster will likely be placed in roster spots 20-30. It is for this reason, that I have little fear over the relatively small amount of salary cap space that still remains. That, and all that allocation money we know they're sitting on**. Heck, for all we know, they could an entire salary cap's worth of $2.97 million cool, crisp, pink and yellow and blue and green Monopoly bucks inside their Swope Park training facility.

** Sporting will be awarded a one-time sum of $100,000 dollars allocation money for qualifying for the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League.

If interested in seeing how Sporting KC stack up against a couple of other MLS clubs in terms of the salary cap, SB Nation's Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers blogs have already tackled the issue, if not a couple weeks ago before additional roster moves. You can find them right here - Seattle and Portland.