With friends like these, right?
This week, ESPN FC released the results of an anonymous MLS player poll. 123 respondents chimed in on a range of subjects, including the structure of the league, the allure of the European game, and -- *GASP* -- promotion and relegation. While most of the data shouldn't strike MLS fans as much of a surprise, one particular question produced a response that NYCFC fans will find unequivocally damning.
"On the condition of anonymity, 123 current players were asked for their picks of the league's most overrated and underrated players, as well as which coach for whom they most wanted to play, among a series of other questions on the state of the league.
It's one thing to catch hell from the fans and the media -- we have pulled literally zero punches when it comes to the Mix Master's deeply uninspiring 2015 season -- but to be cast as the league's most overrated player by your own peers just stings. Smarts.
And it gets worse for NYCFC fans-- after Altidore, who did the players select as the #3 and #4 most overrated players?
Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.
It's really beyond all debate that Lampard is the worst signing in New York City FC's brief history (if you disagree, that's fine, but you really should stop reading Hudson River Blue for the sake of your health). But as to the question of who is "overrated" in the eyes of fellow players, here's my not-that-crazy Diskerud theory:
A significant number of MLS players are likely irked by the fact that Mix's public popularity, repeated national team caps, and DP-level wages aren't justified by his performances on the field.
And guess what? They're basically right.
Let's face it: Diego Valeri doesn't sell branded hats; he probably couldn't if he tried. Pedro Morales doesn't do many photo shoots and magazine features. Screaming teenagers aren't demanding it. Sacha Kljestan made less than half of Mix's $750,000 salary in 2015, and posted vastly superior numbers. But does he get to be a mainstream media star?
If I were one of those guys, I might feel a bit turned off by the Mix Master's outsized fanfare, too.
Luckily, Diskerud is back in his rightful place in central midfield, and his first three performances of 2016 have been lively and encouraging. If he continues to thrive playing sideline-to-sideline with Tommy McNamara, NYCFC fans can rest assured that Mix's fellow MLS players won't bestow upon him such a dubious honor at this time next year.
But let's be clear-- that this man is considered so overrated is not his own fault. Not at all: as it stands, this poll result is more so a damning indictment of the plainly bizarre, nonsensical manner in which the original New York City roster was constructed.
Yes, Matarrita, Bravo, Mendoza, and Lopez all look good, and gone are the days of Nemec and Calle and Lord Kwame. But given that nearly $12,000,000 in salary is reserved for Diskerud, Pirlo, and Lampard alone, it really isn't all that surprising that a huge number of voices around the league don't buy the hype.
OTHER ISHT WE LEARNED
- 44% of players said salaries are the first thing they'd address if they ran the league. The second-place choice, besides "other" (19%), was expanding free agency (17%). Additionally, 84% of players said that MLS talent isn't paid fairly. As one player said: "When you look at guys who leave this league and then they go to Scandinavia and make double or triple what they were making here, obviously the MLS guys are not being paid enough." It's been essentially proven: the best leagues pay the highest wages. The Mexican league boasts noticeably higher average pay than MLS. The same goes for the top tiers in Turkey, Switzerland, Denmark, China, and Ukraine, among others. The worst thing about it all? MLS deliberately chooses to lag behind these leagues in the interest of the purely
farcicalAmerican idea of "competitive balance."
- 66% said they would leave MLS to play in Europe if given the opportunity, while only 25% said no. No-brainer here: it's about W-A-G-E-S.
- 49% favor promotion/relegation in MLS. That means 51% said no. Commissioner Don Garber has long maintained that, if many of the world's top leagues had formed in the present day, they wouldn't use pro/rel, either.
- 42% said Portland had the most intimidating home atmosphere. Not a shocker here. Sporting KC placed second at 28%. The Red Bulls clocked in at a whopping 3%, which is also their average attendance compared to capacity.
- 75% said an MLS side could win CONCACAF Champions League without spending more on player salaries. I don't agree with this personally. Not one bit. Said one player: "It's very difficult to believe you could win two home-and-away series against a top Mexican team." Exactly, brother. But you've got to admire the general sense of hopefulness across this 123-player sample.
- 50% said the best MLS team would finish between 10th and 14th out of 20 in the Barclays Premier League. A full third said that an MLS champ would land in the bottom five of England's top tier. I can't imagine any MLS team -- ever -- could avoid relegation in any Premier League season other than this very strange 2015-16 campaign while abiding under MLS salary rules. But if you let, say, L.A. or Seattle spend whatever they wanted, a hypothetical mid-table finish wouldn't be out of reach.
- 60% said that a playoff structure is the best way to determine the MLS champion. Playoffs are fun.