By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
Two days ago, the Chicago Fire signed Patrick Nyarko to a contract extension. Which is a good thing for him. Making money is kind of important at the professional level. My problem isn't really with him earning another contract. As I mentioned on twitter yesterday, I'm all for the players being paid a more appropriate wage.
My issue here is this maneuver personifies the continued mismanagement of the salary cap by Chicago's front office. And, yes, admittedly, I'm jumping the gun here. I have no inside knowledge of the contract details. I'm making a general assumptions in this situation. However, these assumptions are based upon the mechanisms with MLS and thus I feel justified in making them.
Sadly, the last few seasons Nyarko's value has steadily declined. This is partially due to injuries and partially due to inconsistent playing time. However by our context the ultimate reason I make that claim is that he's not producing the quantity or quality of shots needed by a player demanding his salary.
I think it's easy to justify a $250,000+ salary for an attacking player that produced about half an expected goal per 90 minutes or roughly over 10 total expected goals per 2500 minutes. Those players are the definition of a teams core attacking strength and there was only 39 total players that produced those types of numbers in MLS this past season. The problem is that Nyarko doesn't really compare to any of them in any historical sense and my suspicions is that he isn't likely to ever be the type of player that could.
This line of thinking didn't come about because I think Nyarko was lucky during his good seasons. Rather he's is a 29 year old with a history of leg related injuries. If age and injuries weren't enough of a problem, it's added to his issue of inconsistent ability creating high leverage or a high amount of shots. This makes it difficult to support an extension that isn't team friendly (i.e. contract reducing his pay/salary cap hit).
MLS player acquisition methods are generally slanted towards keeping young players cost controlled as they grow into first team position. This is a generality, of course, as there always is with this sort of thing, there are some exceptions to the rule. The system as its designed is to increase players pay the longer they are in the league with some notable devices (specifically re-entry draft) in place to control for situations where certain players can stay in the league while teams aren't paying a ridiculous price above their value.
This is the system and rules that are in place (probably) for the short term. While There could be some changes in January this is how it works now. And It's a game, and one that front office types seem to pick and choose what parts that they like to play.
But as every father has said to their child: "if you're going to play the game, play it right".
While Nyarko's contract isn't really a blatantly bad move, there does remain a chance that he has a good season worth the value they paid, the point was there were (likely) better options on the table. Playing the game means that you work those options. Some of those options can provide you similarly styled players that have value in the same vein as Nyarko. Here are just a few as an example Shea Salinas, Justin Mapp and Boniek Garcia.
Here is the real twist to these three; they all make less than Nyarko, have greater goal creation numbers and, possibly, could all be had this off-season. The end goal being here that a move for any one of these players would both improve the club AND create cap space.
2470 Minutes, 10.27 Total xGoals
Salinas is on his second tour of duty with San Jose. He seems a perpetually undervalued asset within MLS is personally one of my favorite wide players in the league. His value is created by the a high ratio of quantity-AND-quality of attempts that he provides for his teammates while not risking turnovers. For the season Salinas only average 4.2 inaccurate passes and only 1.6 dispossessions a match good, both above average ratios for wide midfielders. He's only 28 and has a few years still left in him. Chicago could've used its resources to acquire him, give him a pay increase and still be under what they're giving Nyarko this season.
1726 Minutes, 6.53 Total xGoals
Mapp is always on these types of lists and for a lot of good reasons. However, the primary concern is his health and lack of minutes that he contributes on the pitch. You don't add value to a team if you can't make it to the pitch. That being said he's been good for 1,500 minutes a season and with how he's created goal the last few years those minutes are as good or better than what you'd get out of 2,000 minutes of Nyarko. It's also, again, less than what you'd pay Nyarko. Any left over money could be paid to keeping Grant Ward or even in finding another young unproven winger with physical gifts.
2206 Minutes, 7.52 Total xGoals
Yes, he's a designated player. However, that has more to do with the transfer fee that was paid to Olimpia than his salary. The fee and combined with his salary simply pushed him into DP territory. Despite that fact Garcia still makes less than Nyarko and he has been a staple of the Honduras national team. If he was traded the DP tag would fall away.
It's not just whether or not he might be available, Houston has a new GM, and very soon a new coach too. in town and I think everyone is don't think it's far fetched to think he could be had for a reasonable price. The question is at what point does acquiring him make it a redundant move in replacing Nyarko?
Garcia has been inconsistent during his time in MLS, much like Nyarko, having peeks and valleys over the course of a season. Despite that inconsistency he's shown a greater heights and lesser valleys than Nyarko which ease my concerns and makes me feel as though he could still be a core attacking piece (since we would be paying him that type of money) on a playoff team.
Outside of the proven veteran market there are lesser bench players that potential could take a step forward into the starting role with the right opportunity. Players such as Tristan Bowen, Cordell Cato, Pedro Ribeiro, Toni Cascio possibly even Kalif Alhassan all come to mind. This doesn't include the possibility of raking Leandro Barrera from the re-entry draft coals as a result of not being selected in the dispersal draft yesterday.
Again, my problem isn't with the Fire rewarding loyalty or attempting to retain a guy they "feel good" about. It's simply that Chicago continues playing the game wrong. DC United made a very strong statement when they rebuilt their roster last year through the re-entry draft, super draft and sensible trades. While I think they sailed mostly on luck this year that doesn't negate the principles and methods applied to restock talent within the organization.
I'm happy for Nyarko and I hope he surpasses the 2,000 minute mark and regains his 2013 form. Though I'm still not sure he's worth the cap hit. Which in turn makes me sad for the Fire supporters.