Photo credit: Dan Mick


Gambles, Bargains, and Busts Revealed in Minnesota United Salary List

by on 26 April 2017

Twice a year, the MLS Players Union makes its players’ salaries public, offering outsiders a chance to look at how the Loons’ deal-making stacks up. This year’s revelations show Minnesota took quite a few gambles, some of which paid off and some that didn’t. The most notable figure in Minnesota United’s salary list is captain Vadim Demidov making a base of $550,008 this season.

Overall, Minnesota United’s roster totals up to a base compensation of $4,926,046. This figure puts the Loons at third last in the league, ahead of only DC United and the Houston Dynamo.

The Gambles

Demidov stands out for making over $150,000 more than any other player on the team. In addition, the club used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to buy down some of his salary. As FiftyFive.One has previously reported, the club is actively looking to cut its losses and move on from Demidov. If they can offload the defender, they will open up an international roster spot and 11% of their roster budget.

United’s other top earners are Kevin Molino ($350k), Christian Ramirez ($350k), Sam Cronin ($300k), and Francisco Calvo ($300k). Molino pushed for a move away from Orlando City in part because he was unhappy with his $110k paycheck. His trade to Minnesota United, which cost the Loons $650k in allocation money, also earned him a 200% pay jump.

Ramirez’s pay of $350k may have been something of a gamble for the club, especially since he was available to sign for cheaper in 2016 before Liga MX clubs came calling. His salary puts him 30th among league forwards (though he is listed as a midfielder), earning similarly to proven MLS players such as Will Bruin, Joao Plata, and Dom Oduro. But so far, that gamble seems to have paid off with five goals, one more than those three forwards combined.

Miguel Ibarra’s wages start at $290k, a hefty sum that Minnesota would want to spend on someone starting regularly for the club. So it is perhaps a relief that the list comes out the week after he scored his first MLS goal and turned in an impressive performance. Still, Ibarra was signed for wages similar to Felipe, Will Trapp, and Dillon Powers. All of these are proven MLS performers and the Minnesota technical staff will be looking for him to live up to that valuation.

Making $230k, John Alvbåge’s wages make him the 8th highest paid keeper in the league. With Bobby Shuttleworth ($155k) currently holding down the starting spot, it would seem likely that Minnesota might not renew Alvbåge’s loan in June.

The other biggest expenditures come in the form of Collen Warner, ($230k) Rasmus Schüller ($200k), and Bashkim Kadrii ($264k). Both Schüller and Kadrii were gambles (as are any international players in MLS), but not dangerous gambles. Neither player has perhaps lived up to these valuations after eight games, but it is far too early to tell if they will pan out or not.

One final signing that continues to baffle is Bernardo Anor, who takes an international spot and is paid $105k, but spent most of 2016 and now 2017 out with injuries.

The Bargains

There is, perhaps, no greater foil to the Demidov flop than Brent Kallman’s wages of $65k. Kallman, who has risen to the challenge by stepping in for Demidov, has more than earned those wages. But defenders in MLS are often cheap, with average wages for defenders at $176k (compared to $159k, $390k, and $548k for keepers, midfielders, and forwards, respectively). Vancouver’s stand-out center back Tim Parker, for example, makes only $80k and Atlanta’s Zach Lloyd makes just $85k (the same as Kevin Venegas).

At $200k, one could hardly call Ibson a “bargain,” but he has played an important role so far this season and will likely continue to be swapped in and out for Collen Warner. Most importantly, the club confirmed on Tuesday that Ibson now has a green card and no longer takes up an international spot on the roster.

Marc Burch making just $130k is on par for many full backs, but still low for a 32 year-old veteran.

The rest of Minnesota’s low-earners, however, are all squad or back-up players. If you look through Paul Tenorio’s bargain-basement flip through of the rosters, there are no comparable starters or rotation players on Minnesota’s squad earning lower wages.

Expansion ain’t easy

Minnesota was always going to need a reshuffle and rearrangement after it kicked off — expansion is not an easy process. Some of the gambles that Minnesota United took were safe, such as Alvbage’s loan signing since they could always easily walk away if it didn’t work out. Others were understandable: both Ramirez and Ibarra were too tempting to keep on and bring back to Minnesota and this gave the players a little extra leverage.

The important lesson to be learned from this process is that a good deal of money was spent to get a good first eleven on the pitch. The average wage of last week’s starting lineup was $230k. But in that group is perhaps only one case of a player punching above his paycheck: Brent Kallman. The Loons technical staff will need to find more bargain signings as they also look to sign more TAM/GAM level starting players.

The team will also have learned an important lesson about the Demidov gamble. They spent money to sign a player they thought could be a building block of their squad and defense. And it failed spectacularly. No one in the technical staff will need this fact explained to them. The club has already adjusted course with signings like Sam Cronin and Marc Burch (though Cronin was already a pre-season target for the club). More MLS veterans can be expected to come in before the club turns outward again.



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  • Jake

    Great article. I 100% agree with the thought on Anor, I didn’t think he was good when he played last year and now this year he hasn’t played and takes an international spot, sorry but Anor has to go. As much as Demindov was a failure, the last min pick up of Thiesson has been really good, and I don’t think he has got enough credit recently. Pretty gritty defensively and has had some good service as well. The nice thing about Alvbage and Kadrii is that we can cut ties with them, but looking at Paul Tenorio’s piece guys like Garza and Asas that Atlanta picked up on loan for less, look much better! I hope when summer hits we lose some excess and get some real depth.

    • Wes

      Thiesson was a great pickup, but if we’re talking contract cost, he’s right about where we might expect him. He’s in around Ray Gaddis and I don’t have my data open right not, but I think he was 30th on the list of defenders. But I agree, he’s a fantastic pick up.

  • Dave Laidig

    The club might not need the Demidov failure brought to their attention, but the club should review the decision-making process and figure out what went wrong. What info did the player eval rely on? How much of that eval came true? What information was missing, and can it be obtained in the future?
    What were the specific failings on the pitch, off the pitch? Of the multiple opinions within the club, did anyone foresee the problems? What factors did that person(s) rely on? Are there any steps that can be taken to better integrate the players? How much (in investment dollars) would it be worth to the club to avoid future contracts like this? Does the club need to reassess its scouting geography or network? What were the opportunity costs (players not signed or pursued in order to take Demidov)? How are those players faring? How can the ownership be assured that any future DP will not flame out in the same manner?

    • nathan3e

      What I think they had reinforced for them is that essentially any player coming in from any foreign league is a calculated risk. You hit on Thiesson, you pratfall on Demidov. It’s not for no reason that they immediately added Cronin and Burch. Both were as close to sure things as they could hope to find.

      • Dave Laidig

        I agree its a calculated risk. But they have a professional obligation to minimize that risk. And the incredibly delayed start to hiring a coach and rushed player signings increases the risk of poor roster construction. (having an existing team is supposed to ease the transition to an MLS roster). While I’m optimistic the team recognized errors and moved on, I wonder what lessons were learned.

        • nathan3e

          I think “incredibly delayed” might be hyperbole, but I see your point. Regardless, expansion is hard. Even the ostensibly unstoppable and well prepared Atlanta United is discovering that Jeff Larentowicz (!) is one if their most important players and that they are paying Yamil Asad $150,000 to elbow people in the head.

          • Dave Laidig

            Minnesota waited about 2 full months later than other expansion teams. Minnesota named Heath on Nov 29, just three months before their 5-2 inaugural loss at Portland. Previous expansion teams had coaches in place earlier; Montreal (Oct 1), Atlanta (Sep 29), Vancouver (Sep 1), Toronto (Aug 22), Portland (Aug 10), Philadelphia (May28), NYCFC (1+ years prior), and Orlando carried Heath over from its USL days. And with the competition in the league increasing, it’s reasonable to say that more time is needed now than before.

            Announcing a coach 90-some days before the season (and 2 weeks before the expansion draft) is simply unacceptable. Of course the team can improve over time, with the right adjustments and resources. But knowing MLS discussions had been occurring for years, I had hoped the team would be better prepared for its entry into MLS.

          • nathan3e

            Simply unacceptable. Someone will always be unhappy no? How many of those expansion coaches announced well in advance worked out as planned? Montreal planned the hell out of hiring Marsch and then fired him a year later, moronically in retrospect. It seems to me that MNUFC got the coach they wanted and that coach has found his feet. I have no complaints.

  • Scherbs

    These numbers are fascinating. Epic fail on the Demidov move. Let’s hope Brent gets a raise next year! and Anor making 105k and taking up a roster spot is head scratching.

  • Jonas

    It’s shocking how inefficient the FO was, with only Kallman really outperforming his contract. They do have a number who are likely playing up to their contracts (like Ramirez, Burch, Molino, etc.). However, the abject failure of the Demidov investment, plus the underwhelming returns on the other internationals leaves me to only hope that the FO is learning lessons.

  • Benzino

    Its early, and the sample size is too small, but I think Ramirez is out performing his contract. While his finishing leaves something to be desired, his ability to repeatedly get into good scoring positions is a very positive sign. I’ll be curious to see how he performs once the rest of the league starts game planning around him.

  • Matt

    Is Minnesota United expected to always be third from the bottom in total salary paid, or somewhere in that neighborhood?

    Or will they increase what they are paying overall, maybe getting closer to the middle of the league by that measure?

    Not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing to pay less. Look at what Houston has done paying less than us.

    • MmattN

      One of the earlier press conferences regarding MLS I remember Manny saying something along the lines that the club wouldn’t be able to spend like the major markets and not to expect that. I don’t think that means we won’t some years be middle of the league some years, especially when it appears we can contend. Rather I think it means we won’t spend to a lot to get us out of the basement but will rather focus on finding cheaper young talent we can develop and hopefully down the road academy players.

    • Wes

      One thing to keep in mind is that Minnesota does not have any DPs. So the team will definitely spend more in the future. I don’t expect them to be in the top half of spending any time soon.
      As for comparing to Houston, MN is an expansion team, so they brought in 25 players while Houston only brought in 5 or so. let’s say 25% of players are failures, MN has 5 flops and Houston has one.

  • MmattN

    I was happy seeing all these numbers, it said to me the FO was cautious and patient with their decision making with their first endeavor into MLS. They knew they too were gonna have a learning curve and did not want to make huge splash just for the sake of the splash. I see no albatross’s to pull them down and plenty of room to improve. More and more my faith in Manny, Heath and the rest seems to pay off.

    • Governor Squid

      Yeah, for as much of a disappointment as Demi has been, there’s some consolation in knowing it was a six-figure mistake, and not a seven-figure mistake.

  • Alberto Valsecchi

    When MNUFC lost in Dallas, on this site I read articles praising FC Dallas as one of the best team of MLS.
    That’s true and if you read the names of the lineup you understand why.
    The coach and the vast majority of players are from central and south american countries with the addition of some good US
    This model was pursued also by ATLUFC and others.

    On the other hand MNUFC FO travelled to buy players in North-East Europe and in Scandinavia where the leagues are of low quality and so are their average players.
    Some flops like Demidov are explained this way.
    Having said that, kudos to MNUFC FO because they amended these mistakes with the acquisition of MLS experienced players like Cronin and Burch.
    Now another CB and may be a RB is needed to add depth to the defensive line.
    Hopefully they are from central and south american countries or good US experienced players

  • Dave Laidig

    Interesting little fact, Minnesota has 13 players over $200k, no other MLS team has that many (they range from 5 to 12 players over $200k). Thus, the Loons are intent on spreading the value around the roster.