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The Angle

What’s a Goal Worth in MLS?

by on 14 November 2016

With Christian Ramirez’s future still in the balance, a debate has ensued over just how you value a striker in MLS who is a proven goal-scorer in another league.

After leading the NASL in goals over the past three seasons, Ramirez is still unsigned by Minnesota United as they go into MLS in 2017. The consensus response across Twitter and the article’s comment section was a three-word refrain: “Pay the man.”

That’s just about where the consensus ended. Some people thought that there was too much risk in signing a soon-to-be 26 year-old striker without MLS experience and valued him at $100,000. Others thought his importance to the club’s NASL years, his upside, and his goal-scoring record deserved a near-DP deal around $400,000. Generally, every person’s estimate fell in this range, which then begs the question (to paraphrase Kendrick Lamar):

How much a goal cost?

It’s one thing to estimate a player’s worth when you have to factor in a wide range of on-field contributions. For defenders, there aren’t as many defining stats to give a simple formula to their worth. Midfielders are almost harder to valuate, with their roles ranging from defensive enforcers to creative playmakers. Conveniently, the usual striker has one simple objective: scoring goals. With this in mind, we can get a rough estimate of Ramirez’s worth next year by figuring out what a goal is worth in MLS.

I took a look at every player in MLS that scored more than five goals in 2016. From there, I made a spreadsheet to keep track of a few stats: goals, guaranteed compensation, and dollars per goal. They’re very simple to track, but it helps to give a sense for the value of a goal. (Yes, I realize that a player’s salary factors in many factors on the field and off; for the sake of argument, it’s easier to just look at a paycheck purely from on-field goal tallies.)

Inside the Numbers

In total, 72 MLS players scored five or more goals in 2016, with a grand total of 612 goals scored among these players. The salaries of these 72 players added up to $70,837,577, resulting in a price per goal among the 72 players of $115,747.67. That’s a notable figure.

However, this figure factors in the 30 midfielders and 1 defender (big ups, Justin Morrow) who scored 5 or more goals. Removing these players, including Kakแ, Mauro Diaz, and Frank Lampard, leaves 41 forwards with 5 or more goals. These players had an average dollars/goal figure of $110,725.62. That isn’t a major difference from the first number, only slicing off around $5,000 per tally.

Of course, this figure still is influenced by the 17 Designated Players at the forward position. Removing these gives a much better estimate for Ramirez, who likely won’t command a $5,000,000-plus salary like David Villa, Clint Dempsey, and Sebastian Giovinco. That leaves us with a 24-player group to look at.



Finally, we’ve narrowed it down to non-DP forwards in the league, the type of player Ramirez would likely be if he signed with United for 2017 and beyond. This is a wide array of players, with players on rookie contracts (Morris, Larin, Mullins), players transferred in from other leagues (Mendoza, Barnes, Baptista), and league veterans on their second or third contracts (Oduro, Magee, Wondolowski). Looking at these 24 attackers, a goal scored by a non-DP forward was worth $37,566.72 in 2016.

A Real-Life Word Problem

Remember when you wondered when you’d ever use algebra after high school? Get your cocktail napkins ready, because it’s time for some equations. Stick with us.

Using that $37,566.72 figure as the value of a single goal in MLS, you can start to get a sense of what Ramirez’s (or any potential striker’s) worth could be for Minnesota United. The fans estimating his worth to be $100,000 are implying that he’s “only” worth three goals at an MLS level. Even if there’s a performance difference from NASL to MLS that Ramirez would need to conquer, 3 goals seems like a majorly conservative estimate of his output against MLS competition.

For my money, I think a solid over/under to set for Ramirez would be 7.5 goals. This still feels a bit low, but that would account for a potential learning curve, competition keeping him from being an every day starter, and still give room for his first contract to be a value deal.

If that’s the estimated output, you can put his salary value at $281,750.


Does 7.5 goals seem like a fair estimate to base a contract off of? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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