Mo' money, mo' probable

MLS, once ruled by parity, is now ruled by payroll

Updated: March 12, 2012, 10:28 AM ET
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine

BeckhamKelvin Kuo/US PresswireThe LA Galaxy, led by David Beckham, has the highest payroll in MLS.

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MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER was founded in 1996 with the basic belief that a salary cap would benefit small- and big-market teams alike. And that pay scale worked: Nine different teams won the MLS Cup the first 16 seasons, and expansion clubs were able to become competitive quickly as the league grew from 10 to 19 teams. But while MLS was enjoying competitive balance, it also realized that superstars sell tickets. So in 2007, the league began allowing each owner to splurge on as many as three designated players whose salaries don't count against the cap. Twelve clubs now field a total of 23 high earners, and last year the LA Galaxy -- led by David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane -- became the first team with designated players to win the MLS Cup, defeating the Houston Dynamo 1-0. The Galaxy's three biggest stars commanded an average of $4 million in salary; Houston's total payroll was $3.5 million.

The bottom line is clear: The DP rule is separating the league into haves and have-nots. To project 2012 team point totals and rankings, ESPN's Stats & Information Group analyzed the past five seasons to determine the biggest predictors of regular-season success. Not surprisingly, payroll size mattered most. (Other variables, including roster composition and average age, proved relatively insignificant.) Still, money isn't everything: With 10 teams qualifying for the postseason, even cheapskates have a chance.

LA Galaxy


Average age: 28.9
Projected points: 62
Designated players: David Beckham, Dandon Donovan, Robbie Keane

New York Red Bulls


Average age: 28.8
Projected points: 54
Designated players: Therry Henry, Rafael Marquez

Seattle Sounders


Average age: 28.5
Projected points: 51
Designated players: Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, Mauro Rosales

Philadelphia Union


Average age: 24.4
Projected points: 47

Sporting Kansas City


Average age: 26.2
Projected points: 47

Real Salt Lake


Average age: 29.2
Projected points: 46
Designated players: Alvaro Saborio

FC Dallas


Average age: 27.7
Projected points: 45
Designated players: Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira

Houston Dynamo


Average age: 28.1
Projected points: 45

Colorado Rapids


Average age: 30.7
Projected points: 45

Chicago Fire


Average age: 27.7
Projected points: 44

Chivas USA


Average age: 29.1
Projected points: 43
Designated players: Juan Pablo Angel

DC United


Average age: 26.9
Projected points: 43
Designated players: Branko Boskovic, Hamdi Salhi

Columbus Crew


Average age: 27
Projected points: 43
Designated players: Andres Mendoza

San Jose Earthquakes


Average age: 29
Projected points: 42

Portland Timbers


Average age: 27.1
Projected points: 42
Designated players: Diego Chara, Kris Boyd

Toronto FC


Average age: 27.4
Projected points: 40
Designated players: Julian de Guzman, Danny Koevermans, Torsten Frings

Montreal Impact


Average age: 28.2
Projected points: 39

Vancouver Whitecaps


Average age: 30.1
Projected points: 38
Designated players: Eric Hassli, Barry Robson

New England Revolution


Average age: 27.7
Projected points: 32
Designated players: Shalrie Joseph

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. Follow The Mag on Twitter, @ESPNmag, and like us on Facebook.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.