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1ST HALF REVIEW: BEST PLAYERS, VALUES

A little over half the Major League Soccer 2013 season has passed and transfer windows across the globe are wide open. This post takes a look at best players and values in the league using available player rating models as a guide.

Clint Irwin, Colorado Rapids Goalkeeper
Clint Irwin, Colorado Rapids Goalkeeper
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

WHO IS THE BEST PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE

No one rating system is definitive. In fact, the best way to approach these questions when evaluating any player rating is to look at it in groups. Who are the top 10 players? Or, how about in the 20th percentile? How about by position? If you start looking it that way than you can start to form a lot more reasonable arguments and come to simpler conclusions.

One rating system is not going to tell anyone definitively who the best player is but by combining four you can get pretty close. Once we have an assigned rank to each MLS player we can start making determinations on which guys are underpaid, overpaid or just right.

RATING SYSTEMS, METHOD

To figure out who the best players through the first half of the 2013 MLS season I combined four different rating systems.

1.The Castrol Index

Major League Soccer’s official player rating rater. A lot of it is based on a player’s action on the ball and in what zone. It’s a manual system, which means you have a person reviewing and rating. Scores are updated about once a week and posted on the MLS site.

2. WhoScored.com

This one is new on the scene for MLS. It uses the seemingly endless amount of Opta data to formulate a player score. It’s unclear how much player stats are updated but team results are done regularly. A quick check of the player data tells me it is a little incomplete and not perfect but there is certainly enough there to give us an idea of who is good and who is bad.

3. Helltown Score

Ok, this one is mine. I use publicly available Stats, Inc. data for my system. I developed it three years ago and it has served me well. Player scores are assigned using 14 key stats and turned into metrics. From there I also use team results and stats to drive the player’s number. It wasn’t developed to tell me who the single best was. Just to tell me who the best players are.

4. MLS Fantasy Manager

This one is a little bit different than straight player ratings but it is still a measure of player quality. Fantasy Manager tracks a lot of stats and assigns a week to week score to a player. Add them all up and you get a player rank.

RANKING, MATCHING

After getting all the scores in order I ranked players from 1 (best/highest) to 465 (lowest/worst) and matched all rankings to player. The theory is that while one rating system might have a flaw or be inconsistent, four will be able to tell us within a good degree accuracy who the best players are.

Instead of using an average I felt using the median of the four would be more useful. It is to eliminate the outliers or mistakes (there are a few). So... who are the best players? Let’s get started.


GRAHAM ZUSI, BEST 2013 PLAYER

Through the first half of the year Graham Zusi is the only player to rank in the top twenty in each of the four systems (13, 4, 6, 2 in the order of system listed above).

TOP 10 PLAYERS OVERALL

1. Graham Zusi, Sporting KC

2. Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake

3. Camilo, Vancouver

4. Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls

5. Aurelien Collin, Sporting KC

6. Mike Magee, Chicago

7. Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

8. Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia Union

9. Will Johnson, Portland Timbers

10. Marcelo Sarvas, LA Galaxy

THE DEFENDERS

There are 164 Defenders on MLS rosters right now according to STATS, LLC. 135 of them have seen league minutes. For those that have Max salary is Heath Pearce’s $331k (excluding Darren O’Dea). Median salary of top ten percent of paid defenders is $280k and minimum is $35k.

1. Aurelien Collin, Sporting KC

2. Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia

3. Michel, FC Dallas

4. Jaminson Olave

5. Rodney Wallace, Portland Timbers

6. Hassoun Camara, Montreal

7. Matt Hedges, FC Dallas

8. Djimi Traore, Seattle Sounders

9. Josh Williams, Columbus Crew

10. Jose Goncalves, New England

UNDERPAID DEFENDERS

Now that all the players are ranked we can match up player salaries (going to use Base Salary) and start sorting through who is underpaid / overpaid. Even going to go as far as assigning a true player value (what they should be paid based on 2013 performance). Estimated True Value was calculated by finding the median of the five players rated above and below each name.

1. Matt Hedges, FC Dallas

Age: 23

Birthplace: Rochester, New York

Salary: $49,500

Estimated True Value: $115k

2. Josh Williams, Columbus Crew

Age: 25

Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio

Salary: $52,313

Estimated True Value: $105k

3. Michel, FC Dallas

Age: 32

Birthplace: Vitoria, Brazil

Salary: $60,000

Estimated True Value: $125k

Other Defenders underpaid: Jose Goncalves (New England), Chris Klute (Colorado), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Portland).

THE MIDFIELDERS

There are 204 Midfielders on MLS rosters right now according to STATS, LLC. 180 of them have seen league minutes. For those that have Max salary is Tim Cahill’s $3.5 Million deal. Median salary of top ten percent of paid midfielders is $400k and minimum is $47k.

1. Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake

2. Mike Magee, Chicago Fire

3. Marcelo Sarvas, LA Galaxy

4. Will Johnson, Portland Timbers

5. Federico Higuain, Columbus Crew

6. Tim Cahill, NY Red Bulls

7. Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake

8. Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

9. Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers

10. Oriol Rosell, Sporting KC

UNDERPAID MIDFIELDERS

1. Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

Age: 24

Birthplace: Monrovia, Liberia

Salary: $130,000

Estimated True Value: $240k

2. Oriol Rosell, Sporting KC

Age: 21

Birthplace: Puig-Reig, Spain

Salary: $110,000

Estimated True Value: $155k

3. Lee Nguyen, New England Revs

Age: 26

Birthplace: McKinney, Texas

Salary: $73,600

Estimated Value: $155k

Other underpaid Midfielders: Nathan Sturgis (Colorado), Dillon Powers (Colorado), Jonny Steele (New York), Eric Alexander (New York), Lamar Neagle (Seattle)


THE FORWARDS

There are 117 Forwards on MLS rosters right now according to STATS, LLC. 103 of them have seen league minutes. For those that have Max salary is Robbie Keane’s $4.0 Million deal. Median salary of top ten percent of paid forwards is $1.1 million and minimum is $47k.

1. Graham Zusi, Sporting KC

2. Camilo, Vancouver

3. Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls

4. Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

5. Marco Di Vaio, Montreal Impact

6. Claudio Bieler, Sporting KC

7. Dominic Oduro, Columbus Crew

8. Ryan Johnson, Portland Timbers

9. Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union

10. Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia Union

UNDERPAID FORWARDS

1. Graham Zusi, Sporting KC

Age: 27

Birthplace: Longwood, Florida

Salary: $350,000 (estimate)

Estimated True Value: $1.0m

2. Camilo, Vancouver Whitecaps

Age: 25

Birthplace: Presidente Prudente, Brazil

Salary: $210,000

Estimated True Value: $1.0m

3. Deshorn Brown, Colorado Rapids

Age: 22

Birthplace: Manchester, Jamaica

Salary: $65,000

Estimated Value: $175k

Other underpaid Forwards: Dominic Oduro (Columbus), Ryan Johnson (Portland), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia), Joao, Plata (Real Salt Lake), Will Bruin (Houston)

BEST GOALKEEPERS

There are 64 Goalkeepers on MLS rosters right now according to STATS, LLC. 33 of them have seen league minutes. For those that have Max salary is Donovan Ricketts $275k deal. Median salary of top ten percent of paid defenders is $200k and minimum is $47k.

1. Donovan Ricketts, Portland Timbers

2. Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake

3. Clint Irwin, Colorado Rapids

4. Luis Robles, NY Red Bulls

5. Michael Gspurning, Seattle Sounders

UNDERPAID GOALKEEPERS

1. Clint Irwin

Age: 24

Birthplace: Charlotte, North Carolina

Salary: $35,125

Estimated True Value: $200k

Other underpaid Goalies: Luis Robles (New York), Bobby Shuttleworth (New England)

FINAL THOUGHTS

One of the first things that stood out to me was how some of the higher paid players drift out of the top 10% at each position except Forwards. The reason for this, I believe, is that contributions are easily tracked through basic stats. The best paid league Defenders, in particular, are mostly found slightly below the top 10-15% of performers. I have a few theories on why, but they are just that. Theories.

There is more data out there than ever before for Major League Soccer fans to digest. Some if it junk, some of it extremely useful. I’ll look at this again at the end of the year for Massive Report but will continue to dig through it a bit at my personal blog Helltown Beer as well (I’ll get into things like best players under 25, avg pay by state/country, that sort of thing).

Hope you enjoyed the post or at the very least thought it was interesting. I usually make most of my data available but for this type of analysis I am not. If you would like more information you can email me at the address listed on my profile page or my twitter account @HelltownBeer.


Thanks for reading.