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Meet Vancouver Whitecaps Forward Brian White, The Most Astonishing Bargain In MLS

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 30, 2021

With 12 goals so far, Brian White won’t finish as the top goal scorer in Major League Soccer. As we enter the league’s penultimate weekend, there are a dozen players above him in the race for the MLS Golden Boot. And there’s an outside chance he even gets caught by his own teammate, Cristian Dajome, before the season closes.

But the 25-year-old American is almost certain to finish as the cheapest double-digit scorer of the 2021 season.

In an era when MLS teams are increasingly making major financial investments to find consistent scorers, White is in some extreme cases providing similar offensive production at as little as 2% of the cost in player wages.

He’s not the only player scoring goals at fractions on the dollar relative to high-priced imported starts. But with Vancouver presumably only paying a pro-rated portion of his contract after acquiring him from the New York Red Bulls in early June, he is even outperforming the next-most-economic striker in terms of wages, FC Dallas teenager Ricardo Pepi, by a ratio of 62 cents on the dollar.

Below is a breakdown of how much every player that has scored at least 10 goals this season has earned from his current club per goal. These rankings work off the annual guaranteed compensation figures provided by the MLS Players Association, and are adjusted for how many games a team has played, as well as how many of those games a player has been under contract with that team.

For example, White has scored all of his goals since arriving in Vancouver in early June, and has been a Whitecaps player for 23 of their games. Thus his earnings-per-game rate with Vancouver is based off a pro-rated portion of his guaranteed annual compensation.

The same applies to LAFC striker and MLS newcomer of the year Cristian Arango, who has been under contract for 16 of his club’s games to date.

Compensation Per Goal, 2021 MLS Season

NOTE: Minimum 10 goals scored

  1. Brian White, Vancouver Whitecaps: $12,177
  2. Ricardo Pepi, FC Dallas: $19,620
  3. Ola Kamara, D.C. United: $23,253
  4. Cristian Arango, LAFC: $23,855
  5. Daniel Salloi, Sporting Kansas City: $26,023
  6. Dairon Asprilla, Portland Timbers: $26,118
  7. CJ Sapong, Nashville SC: $33,551
  8. Fafa Picault, Houston Dynamo: $42,781
  9. Valentin Castellanos, New York City FC: $45,647
  10. Adam Buksa, New England Revolution: $67,107
  11. Javier Eduardo Lopez, San Jose Earthquakes: $67,451
  12. Felipe Mora, Portland Timbers: $77,433
  13. Damir Kreilach, Real Salt Lake: $82,059
  14. Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC: $101,177
  15. Johnny Russell, Sporting Kansas City: $104,202
  16. Raul Ruidiaz, Seattle Sounders: $123,529
  17. Gustavo Bou, New England Revolution: $137,176
  18. Nani, Orlando City: $234,000
  19. Josef Martinez, Atlanta United: $322,571
  20. Javier Hernandez, LA Galaxy: $403,361
  21. Gonzalo Higuain, Inter Miami: $454,412

Analytical soccer minds might also point out the giant lurking variable in goal scoring totals: whether a player takes penalties.

Being able to score a penalty kick — which any player on the field may take and which has approximately a 78% rate of conversion — is not remotely equal to the value scoring from all other scenarios.

When you only account for non-penalty goals, White’s comparative value grows even higher. (Dajome has been the Whitecaps’ main penalty taker.)

Compensation Per Non-Penalty Goal, 2021 MLS Season

NOTE: Minimum 10 goals scored (including penalties)

  1. Brian White, Vancouver Whitecaps: $12,177
  2. Ricardo Pepi, FC Dallas: $19,620
  3. Daniel Salloi, Sporting Kansas City: $26,023
  4. Dairon Asprilla, Portland Timbers: $29,020
  5. CJ Sapong, Nashville SC: $33,551
  6. Cristian Arango, LAFC: $38,765
  7. Ola Kamara, D.C. United: $43,922
  8. Fafa Picault, Houston Dynamo: $58,824
  9. Valentin Castellanos, New York City FC: $60,862
  10. Adam Buksa, New England Revolution: $67,107
  11. Javier Eduardo Lopez, San Jose Earthquakes: $73,583
  12. Damir Kreilach, Real Salt Lake: $82,059
  13. Felipe Mora, Portland Timbers: $85,177
  14. Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC: $108,959
  15. Johnny Russell, Sporting Kansas City: $132,620
  16. Gustavo Bou, New England Revolution: $146,975
  17. Raul Ruidiaz, Seattle Sounders: $152,036
  18. Nani, Orlando City: $292,500
  19. Josef Martinez, Atlanta United: $394,254
  20. Javier Hernandez, LA Galaxy: $434,389
  21. Gonzalo Higuain, Inter Miami: $605,882

This all isn’t to say that MLS stars are overpaid, or to foolishly suggest goal scoring be the primary basis for player compensation. Yes, goals change games. But they are often as much about the creator as the scorer. And it still takes quality defenders and midfielders to win matches.

The players on this list fit a wide range of profiles, both in terms of their on-the-field skillsets and off-the-field marketing power.

Ruidiaz, Nani, Martinez, Hernandez and Higuain might be at the bottom of the list above. They’re also in the league’s list of top 25 player jerseys sold, which has its own kind of value for clubs. In the case of Nani and to a lesser extent Higuain, they’re also more likely to be involved in a successful goal in an assisting role.

So far as goal scoring is a valuable commodity, teams aren’t willing to pay a premium for a player who might score double-digit goals. The wages grow when you can demonstrate the ability to reliably score those goals year upon year.

Ricardo Pepi may become that kind of scorer, but he’s only 18. Daniel Salloi has more than doubled his career total in this his sixth MLS season.

White is in a profile similar to Salloi, only he was even older when debuting as a pro after a college career, and without much attention as a youth prospect. It doesn’t appear he played any competitive matches at the youth international level, typically a key identifier for eventual high-end pro talent. And although his finishing skill is very valuable, his range of abilities is narrower than most of the players on this list.

What’s more, White’s sudden explosion on the scene — in which he’s scored 11 times in his last 14 appearances — hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Part of it owes to the arrival of Scottish playmaker Ryan Gauld, who has made Vancouver’s attack more versatile and dynamic. Part of it owes to interim manager Vanni Sartini, who has clearly gotten something right in going 7-3-2 since taking the reigns from Marc Dos Santos.

Lastly, wages aren’t the only cost associated with fielding a team. Vancouver acquired White for up to $500,000 in allocation money sent to the Red Bulls. Pepi is the product of a robust Dallas youth system that pays the expenses of dozens of youth players. Salloi spent time at a similar set up with Kansas City. And so on and so on.

So what’s the point of all this? It’s not to argue that Vancouver are smarter than everyone else, or that Miami are dumber for paying Gonzalo Higuain many times what White earns. Heck, you need only look at the Whitecaps own roster to see a big-money signing that has arguably gone more poorly than Higuain in Miami.

With guaranteed annual compensation just under $1.4 million, Canadian international attacker Lucas Cavallini has only three goals this season while managing injuries and international call-ups, providing roughly similar value in terms of goals-per-pay as Higuain. And he isn’t selling nearly the same number of shirts.

Sometimes it’s just fun to applaud players for vastly exceeding the expectations of everyone else. And this year in MLS, no one is doing that quite as well as White.

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