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Sounders’ injuries proving costly, on field and on ledger

They aren’t outspending opponents because they are paying hurt players.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Sounders have been hurt and while not having more than seven ideal starters in a single starting XI has been a major problem, the sheer volume of salary sitting on the training table is even more alarming. Of the Sounders’ annual salary of about $11.32m, the ideal lineup would be about 76% of that or $8.6m. Over the first nine games, the Sounders’ largest outlay (in annual terms) was $7.58m, two-thirds the team’s total salary, when they played LAFC in Los Angeles. For all but one game, Seattle has had players with a total worth of more than $2m unavailable due to injury (and that one game merely had Victor Rodriguez in the 18 against Minnesota United — he did not play and was not able to travel a week later to play LAFC).

The Sounders are spending the eighth most in salaries according to publicly released MLSPA compensation guide, but only twice this year have they spent more on their starting XI than their opponents. Making it worse, only once has Seattle had a higher percentage of their total salary in the starting lineup.

A team is only as good as its healthy players. You can spend all you want on DPs, sign national team players and future homegrown stars but if they are hurt and don’t see minutes then it is not benefiting the club. In a league with salary restrictions it is all the more vital that the players in which you have invested heavily are healthy because you cannot afford high-quality backups across the field. This season has been trying for the Sounders as both the expensive starters and bench players have been hurt and the costs are adding up for the Rave Green.

Is Seattle just spending less?

One theory would be that Seattle is just spending less than other teams, which as the 8th highest team is possible. In the nine matches Seattle has played, they are the lower total salary team five times. LAFC (twice), Montreal, Toronto and Portland. Montreal is merely spending a couple hundred thousand more, making it a wash in reality. The ideal lineup for Seattle would have spent less than all but Montreal of those games, lending more to the theory the Sounders are not spending what LAFC and Toronto are on salaries. What comes into play then is, what percentage of salaries is being spent on the starting XI in those matches. Each of those teams have the same makeup, except Toronto: moderately priced DPs and a handful of TAM players.

Salary Comparison

Game LAFC 3/8 MTL 3/31 LAFC 4/29 TOR 5/9 PDX 5/13
Game LAFC 3/8 MTL 3/31 LAFC 4/29 TOR 5/9 PDX 5/13
SEA First XI Salary $4,529,720.87 $5,810,500.13 $7,584,087.83 $2,478,654.25 $4,731,824.99
SEA First XI Salary % 42.16% 51.08% 66.99% 21.90% 41.80%
Opp. First XI Salary $9,772,244.45 $7,513,288.53 $10,252,869.53 $18,299,085.00 $8,682,799.62
Opp. First XI Salary % 81.46% 63.20% 85.46% 69.79% 69.37%

Seattle has started all three DPs only once, starting none or one in their other matches. Overall, Seattle does spend less than these teams but when you are missing DPs and TAM players, it multiplies the difference.

Playing the bottom half spenders

Seattle should have fared better against bottom half spenders, right? Seattle spends at a minimum $2m more in salary than the closest team, FC Dallas, but even then they weren’t outspending those starting XIs. The Sounders have only out spent Minnesota United and the Columbus Crew. Those two teams rank 17th and 20th in total spending and spend about $3m and $4.5m less than Seattle respectively.

Bottom Half Salary Comparison

Game FCD 3/18 SKC 4/15 MNUFC 4/22 CLB 5/5
Game FCD 3/18 SKC 4/15 MNUFC 4/22 CLB 5/5
SEA First XI Salary $4,864,166.79 $4,693,666.79 $6,288,333.83 $5,622,837.83
SEA First XI Salary % 42.76% 41.46% 55.55% 49.67%
Opp. First XI Salary $5,463,394.28 $5,176,321.53 $4,330,892.37 $4,167,065.23
Opp. First XI Salary % 58.53% 56.41% 51.82% 59.78%

Against FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City on the day, Sounders spent significantly less, especially when you consider they spend roughly $2m in salaries more over the year.

Seattle outspent Columbus and Minnesota, and showed their class over the Loons. It was the only match where they spent a higher total and active percentage of salary spend than their opponent. It is one of only two matches where Seattle was able to get all three DPs on the field, even if Clint Dempsey was a sub.

Even when Seattle is playing teams it is spending 20-30% more than, they are having trouble fielding lineups that include their expensive players. In doing so, Seattle is revealing the holes created by missing your starters and their expensive backups and playing matches with a patchwork of low-budget reserve players.

How much is Seattle paying injured players?

The piece that shows how hard the Sounders have been struck by injuries is how much they have paid to players not able to see the pitch.

Injury Pay

Player Missed Matches Total Salary Game Check Injury Pay
Player Missed Matches Total Salary Game Check Injury Pay
Rodriguez 9 $1,087,499.96 $31,985.29 $287,867.64
Morris 9 $234,500.00 $6,897.06 $62,073.53
Alonso 5 $1,141,667.04 $33,578.44 $167,892.21
Shipp 5 $174,999.96 $5,147.06 $25,735.29
Lodeiro 4 $2,302,500.00 $67,720.59 $270,882.35
Torres 4 $645,000.04 $18,970.59 $75,882.36
Francis 4 $171,666.67 $5,049.02 $20,196.08
Kim 3 $632,004.00 $18,588.35 $55,765.06
Bruin 2 $351,666.67 $10,343.14 $20,686.27
Dempsey 1 $1,650,000.04 $48,529.41 $48,529.41
Leerdam 1 $575,000.04 $16,911.77 $16,911.77
Marshall 1 $341,250.00 $10,036.76 $10,036.76
Wingo 1 $55,650.00 $1,636.76 $1,636.76
Total Pay $1,064,095.50

Two players, Victor Rodriguez and Jordan Morris, have not played a minute of MLS action this season. Osvaldo Alonso and Lodeiro have combined to miss nine matches so far and overall Seattle has spent more than a million in game checks to players who are not available due to injury. If the players that missed Seattle’s match (that have not reported to the World Cup) against Portland are still unavailable against Real Salt Lake then Seattle will have spent more than they will pay Alonso for the season through only 10 matches. Effectively 36% of total game checks to this point have been paid to the injured players.

How is this impacting each game?

It sounds like a lot of money Seattle is missing and unfortunately it isn’t in spikes, It is for the most part evenly split through the season meaning the Rave Green are not getting a reprieve from the injuries. Of Seattle’s nine matches, eight saw more than 20% of the team’s salary hurt. The lone match that didn’t was Seattle’s match against Minnesota when Victor Rodriguez made the bench but he did not sub on and then couldn’t travel to future matches and eventually had surgery. If you change him to injured (as I did above) then Seattle is missing at least 20% in every match. Twice, Toronto and Portland, Seattle has missed more than 50% of their salary due to injury.

In the midst of all of this, Seattle has still managed to field a competitive team. They’ve been thoroughly swept on the field only once, a 3-0 loss in Dallas, and the rest of the time they’ve been competitive enough to earn at least a draw in every match. Seattle is very injured and at the rate they are going will spend more on injuries than on the probable DP signing’s transfer fee but there is hope at least. If you remove fluke late goals in LA and Portland and Seattle gets a goal against 10-man Columbus, they are 3-3-3 and sitting on 12 points through nine matches. It would be acceptable. If the Sounders can bring the injured salary to under 20%, for the first time this year, and keep it under then they should be able to turn it around.

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