Casual MLS fans have at least a base-level awareness of quality across the league’s teams: Atlanta-LAFC good, Cincinnati-Vancouver bad. But how will that change year-over-year?
Let’s dive into the numbers a bit. I’ll be using Transfermarkt team values, so I have to give the typical caveats involved: Transfermarkt is pretty manipulable by agents and teams, so the numbers themselves shouldn’t be taken as gospel. In addition, the direct correlation between “value of players on team” and “quality of team on field” is rather… fluid.
There are reasons that a player’s value may be inflated (a young prospect who has sell-on for more years to come in his career) or deflated (injuries, age, etc.) compared to how he’ll actually perform on the field. For example, in 2020 terms only, I’d wager a bet that Nashville SC veteran Walker Zimmerman (value per TM: $2.70m) has every opportunity to be as impactful as Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson ($3.30m), and the difference is more about being four years younger than a talent gap.
So, that being said, here’s the 2019 value mapped against 2020 value (measured in distance from the mean spend) for the league:
Hey, that’s pretty jumbled in the middle! Both LA teams and Atlanta… well, they aren’t going to be caught in spending, to say the least. For what it’s worth, a lot of the Galaxy’s change is based around a major drop in value for winger Christian Pavón, while LAFC – already the best regular-season team in league history – saw its top three players gain $12.65m in value since the end of last season. Given that the concept of the Designated Player rule essentially boils down to “having your best three players be as good as possible is more valuable than having more value elsewhere in the roster,” that’s good for LAFC.
Let’s excise those three big spenders and see who’s making moves, and who is very much not:
Above that diagonal line is teams that have improved in comparison to league average, while below it is the opposite. NYCFC and FC Dallas are hoping to do big things, while DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia (along with a few others)… not so much. It’s also worth noting that the teams I’ve excised skew the average in a big way – the vast majority of teams are below-average in at least one of the past two years (and exactly half are below-average in both).
It is interesting to me that two teams who are preseason media darlings – Chicago and DC – both saw major decreases in spending. They were also opposites last year, with United overachieving its xG numbers in a massive way and the Fire underachieving to a similar degree. With both clubs retooling, it’ll be interesting to see if Chicago improves to match its xG or if DC falls to match its own.
Where do Nashville and Miami fit?
Since they didn’t have teams last year, they don’t belong on the chart. Nashville is currently the third-lowest spending team (in terms of value, not wage outlay) in the league, while Miami is behind only LAFC and Atlanta United.
If spending is the be-all and end-all – and while it isn’t that, it’s extremely important – that probably doesn’t bode well for NSC. The mantra of “valuing the undervalued” will be key if NSC is to succeed. So too will the value – obviously not reflected in the TM numbers – placed on having experience within this league.
Miami, on the other hand, is hoping that picking up talented South American youngsters and a few key pieces with MLS experience works out for them. The blueprint certainly worked out for Atlanta United early in its MLS existence, so there may be something to that.
Nashville misses Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, and New York Red Bulls from the East, so that’s two teams losing a lot of TM value year-over-year, as well as an NYRB side that added value, but is still below-average in spending.