by Sebastian Li
Despite being ranked 13th according to FIFA, the United States pleasantly surprised spectators around the world by escaping the group round. After being placed in the group of death, the team was forced to face teams ranked 2nd (Germany), 4th (Portugal), and 37th (Ghana). Although these rankings have not been entirely predictive throughout history, they tend to be a decent indicator for the results to come.
As a general rule of thumb, people who are better at their jobs tend to have the highest wages. In professional sports, the most skilled athletes tend to be the most popular ones, and as such are also the ones who collect the most outrageous salaries. One way of quantifying just how big of a cinderella story the advancement of the US Men’s National Team is by looking at the salaries of the players on each team.
When considering this data, you should keep a couple of things in mind. These players are paid in different types of currency, so their wages are standardized to US Dollars. Additionally, the details of contracts are generally not released publicly, so these salaries are estimations. These are also incomplete rosters of the team. Rather than using the entire roster, the salaries of a projected starting 11 are used.
Taking the full rosters into account exaggerates the effects significantly, but the data provided below still manages to show the gulf between the wages of the American team and others. Also, I can’t guarantee you the managers of these teams will go with the starting 11 that I present. At the end of the day, it’s become a well known phenomenon that professional athletes are highly paid. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the players on the US Men’s National Team.
Before going into too much detail, let’s just take note of the fact that Portugal, a team in the group of death that was essentially eliminated by tying the US, has the reigning player of the year in Cristiano Ronaldo. Even after his taxes have been filed, Ronaldo brings home a yearly sum of $26 million in wages alone. Also known as: more than the combined United States starting lineup. It would be an understatement to say that European soccer clubs have done pretty well on the financial front. Using Ronaldo as an example again, his transfer to Real Madrid cost the club a record fee of approximately $136,260,000. An explanation of the transfer market between European teams, however, is an entirely other beast to tackle.
Either way, a quick glance at the table above is enough to know that the players representing the United States in the World Cup aren’t exactly seeing the type of money you might expect. Certainly not the type of money the top European players command. Just keep in mind here, the average salary of this American starting 11 is $1.9 million.
Three games into the World Cup, and the results have been mixed for the United States. Beginning with a gutsy game against Ghana, the US declared itself ready to compete for honors in the group of death off an early Clint Dempsey goal and a John Brooks header. Next was Portugal, in which Ronaldo was held silent until the final clutches of the game. Swinging in a sumptuous cross to land perfectly on Eder’s head for that tying goal may have been his most notable contribution of the game, but it was mitigated by their initial spanking in the first game against Germany.
The most recent of these games was the final group match against Germany. Many believed this to be quite the lopsided fixture. Let’s see the salaries of the sides’ projected 11 before moving on.
From these projected starting 11, the Germans make just more than three times what the American squad makes. Germany is, after all, the second best team in the world, so perhaps this isn’t such a big surprise. When watching this game, the significant gulf in class became clear for a while in the second half. The German team passed the ball effortlessly around the final third of the field, patiently waiting for a hole in the American defense to show itself.
Even with the Germans pressuring so intensely, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men displayed a disciplined and organized defense, at many times playing with the entire team in the defensive half. The United States has stubbornly refused to adopt a more cautious style of play, continually forcing the ball to the front and losing the ball more often than not. The main reason that a player like Michael Bradley has garnered so much attention for the United States team is that he is the sole facilitator on the team. He is the player on this team who will pick his head up and find his teammates in position to score. In fact, so few players have this ability on the USMNT that Bradley has actually been playing somewhat out of position as a secondary striker in this years World Cup since Jozy Altidore’s injury.
This game against Germany presented the biggest challenge to the American team. As the salaries of the players on the field might have indicated, this resulted in a 1-0 German victory. Thanks to the win against Ghana and the tie against the Portugal, team USA would still advance to the elimination round of 16. Next up: Belgium in the round of 16. Have a look at the books:
Once again, the salary of this European team manages to more than triple that of the US. Belgium is actually ranked 11th, with Greece in 12th and the United States in 13th. According to the FIFA rankings, this should something of an even game. On the other hand, odds for the United States winning opened at +340. I wouldn't bet on the US here, but I’ve also been accused of being a communist sympathizer. It’s an unfortunate fact for America’s World Cup hopes, but Belgium is a team filled with quality. Even beyond the starting eleven.
There’s a good amount of players to look out for on this team. Vincent Kompany is a world-class defender, and gets paid for it with a $17.8 Million salary. Marouane Fellaini’s hair deserves an honorable mention on its own, but his play is nothing short of spectacular when he has his day. An absolute force of a central midfielder, Fellaini has the ability to dictate a game both defensively and offensively. Eden Hazard has received proclamations of the next Ronaldo or Messi, and hasn't exactly disappointed. A flashy player who functions well on the wing, he’s likely to be a player to watch for the next World Cup as well as this one.
One of the most beautiful aspects of soccer is that dominating the ball does not necessarily mean you win. It’s certainly helpful to dominate the ball, but a small piece of offensive brilliance - or a huge defensive mistake - may be the deciding factor in a 90 minute game. To play a game of soccer is to aspire towards perfection, but to play a flawless 90 minutes, for any team, is simply a gargantuan task. While many European teams have adopted a more surgical approach to create opportunities for brilliance, capitalizing on the mistakes of other teams has become a bit of an American specialty at the World Cup.
The fact of the matter is, there seems to be a pretty big difference in talent between the American team and top European nations. It’s apparent even to the most clueless of soccer fans. A big factor contributing to this disparity is the simple fact that Americans just don’t care for soccer the same way they do about other sports. As a result, MLS teams make less money that they can then redistribute among their players and staff.
While this seems to be a pretty lamentable issue of culture, it doesn't change the fact that soccer has indeed been the world’s game for some time. America simply isn't very good at it for now. Before our patriotic spirit gets the better of us, we may just want to take a look at the numbers before preaching the highest of expectations for the USMNT. In other words, Jurgen Klinsmann, I agree: it’s just not realistic for the United States to win this World Cup.