Thirty million over five years is too much to pay for Jozy Altidore

If my math is correct *picks up abacus and shakes it* Jozy Altidore is making approximately … way too much goddamn money for what Jozy Altidore has accomplished in the last couple of years. If “sources” are correct.

Altidore is back on American shores after departing Red Bull land for his excellent (turbulent) European adventure in 2008. This time, he’ll be lacing up his boots in Canada for Toronto FC, alongside his international teammate Michael Bradley. Following in the footsteps of Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and, to a lesser extent, Mix Diskerud, he’s the latest U.S. men’s national team player to return to MLS to find playing time and playboy money.

But is Jozy worth that investment? Sure, he’s Jozy, the man the U.S. men’s national team has relied on for years to score its goals. Aside from a brief spell in Klinsmann purgatory during 2014 World Cup qualifying, he has been a staple in the U.S. starting XI when healthy. He’s been good enough for teams with scouts, from countries that don’t use U.S. dollars, to sign. He’s a recognizable face stateside and comes across as a wonderful, affable gentleman.

But Jozy’s MLS salary could fund the entire 2015 MLS first round draft class. Doesn’t that seem crazy? That seems kind of crazy.

By comparison, here are a few other things that are worth a yearly Jozy Altidore:

  • 1.6 entire 2014 Chicago Fire first team rosters
  • 2.3 2014 Marco Di Vaios
  • 0.83 MLS Kakás
  • 31 2014 Lee Nguyens
  • 12 2014 Diego Valeris
  • Detroit

As U.S. men’s national team players return home during their prime years, it’s worth asking if MLS is developing a case of the Premier League. This illness, put bluntly, results in English clubs paying more for English players than they’re worth. Sure, that’s not exactly a fair statement because, in economic terms, a good or service is worth what someone is willing to pay. But some things just don’t pass the sniff test. Luke Shaw, for instance, is a very good full back. But 30 million pounds good? Nope. Not yet. That smells like nonsense.

Yet there is something to be said for keeping domestic players in your domestic league, or at least that’s what they say. Keeping the best U.S. players in MLS is good for American soccer. That’s the popular refrain, whether those players are actually performing at club level abroad or not. If you’re a U.S. international, it’s always a good thing to be home, so the saying goes. It almost, bizarrely, feels like coming home is a patriotic move. It feels like we should be having parades and standing on balconies shooting guns into the night sky.

At least that’s how MLS always frames it. It’s always a bit of an eyebrow raising moment when a player strikes that chord in unison with the league. What started as refrains about “challenging oneself abroad” is turning into choruses of noise about playing soccer as some sort of service for one’s country.

One of the many things the optics of this position reflects, from above, is that there’s a home for U.S. players to both compete at a good level and get compensated domestically at a level they wouldn’t get paid abroad. Having North American faces be the face of North American teams is also good for marketing and selling things. But is playing $6,000,000 a year to one player in a league that has some players making mid-to-low five-digit salaries wise? Don’t conflate that question with a capitalist critique as to whether the wage discrepancies are fair. The question is simply whether it’s a wise investment.

The “serve your country in MLS” angle largely rests on the notion that in a global market place, there’s still lots of value in having domestic stars play at home. People know them. People root for them during international tournaments. Relationship and bonds grow. People will play the game because of them. People will respect for your league because they chose to stick around or return to play in it and “grow the game.”

But, if you look at England, as much as England pays a premium for English talent, the Premier League didn’t explode on the back of British talent. It exploded on the backs of hoards of foreign talent coming in and making English players feel inadequate, which led to complaints about English players not getting through, as if the problem wasn’t that England just sucked at developing players. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.

Perhaps the idea that there’s a ton of inherent value in overpaying for American things is misguided. Perhaps growing the game is a function of growing talent and finding money to pay good players, just as much as it is about securing U.S. internationals at astronomical prices to serve as MLS marketing material. None of these things are mutually exclusive. But, just know that if you pull out the smell test and wave it around, you’ll catch an odor of $6 million per year for Jozy Altidore being a lot of goddamn money. And we should probably talk about it.

Nevertheless, bless him for snatching up this deal. This is an MLS conundrum, not a Jozy Altidore conundrum. This is about league decisions, not Jozy’s decisions. But in the meantime, while we work on solving this puzzle, dinner in Toronto will be on him and Michael Bradley forever.

 

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