Ranking the most and least efficient contracts on the 3 Canadian MLS teams
In a salary-capped league like MLS, every dollar counts.
Unlike in Europe, where bad contracts can be sent away and easily replaced, teams in MLS don’t have that same luxury as their counterparts.
Therefore, it’s imperative that teams make the most of what’s available to them, from their DPs to TAM players, and those at the bottom of the roster. To do that, however, there’s no one perfect approach.
For some teams, they’ll look to throw as much money as they possibly can to maximize all avenues, loading up on a top-heavy roster build. As for others, they will look to capitalize on market inefficiencies, building a more balanced team on the cheap.
And there are benefits to each approach. It’s no coincidence that in last year’s MLS playoffs, of the final four teams, they all varied in salary expenditures, ranging from eventual champions LAFC up in sixth, to NYCFC in 11th, Austin FC in 17th and the Philadelphia Union in 27th.
Interestingly, when you look up north, the three Canadian MLS teams have been of differing schools of thought lately. Last year, Toronto were first in salary expenditures, while the Vancouver Whitecaps were in 15th, with CF Montréal sitting in 20th.
Despite that, Montréal finished third in MLS, and Vancouver just missed the playoffs as a mid table team (and won the Canadian Championship). In contrast, Toronto finished bottom five in the league, with a 2020 Canadian Championship win sitting as a lone consolation.
Then, with the new salary numbers released this week, Toronto has remained in first, while Vancouver sits in 24th, with Montréal now last in 29th. Ironically, the table remains flipped in MLS play, as Montréal has the most points of the three with 15, while Vancouver has 14 and Toronto has 13 as of writing.
All of this shows that there is no perfect approach to building a roster in MLS, with the key being to make the most of what you got.
On that note, however, with the new numbers out this week, here’s each Canadian team's worst and best bargain, giving an idea of where they’re getting good value - and where they might’ve wished to have a mulligan.
Best Bargain: Mathieu Choinière
As the lowest-spending team in MLS, Montréal has a few candidates here, but ultimately, the winner is Choinière, and it isn’t close.
Arguably the team’s MVP so far this season, he’s played a crucial role in their recent turnaround, playing a big role in midfield for them. Influential on both sides of the ball, he’s been especially dominant offensively, which has pushed him into the conversation for a Canadian Men’s National Team call-up.
Yet, despite his importance to the team, he’s on a ticket of just $276 667, which is the 14th on CF Montréal’s roster.
Safe to say, Montréal will be pleased that they locked him up on a deal through 2024 (with an option for 2025), although if he keeps up, a renegotiation might be on the cards soon for the 24-year-old homegrown now in his sixth season with the club.
Worst deal: Ahmed Hamdi
Despite being a thrifter team that has thrived on working the MLS market, Montréal has taken some punts on higher-priced international players over the past few years, to mixed results.
One such example of that has been Ahmed Hamdi, who is now in his third season at the club, brought in as one of the first pieces of the rebuild they underwent after the 2020 season.
Yet, Hamdi has seen the field for just over 1500 minutes across 41 games since his arrival, never able to carve out a role as a starter. Injuries have played a big role in that, to be fair, but given his potential as someone who had done well in a tough Egyptian league, Montréal will have felt they could’ve gotten more out of him in the minutes he did play, where he grabbed just two goals and one assist.
Especially since he’s on the sixth-highest ticket on his team at $597 500, one can only imagine what Montréal would be able to do if they allocated those funds elsewhere, given how shrewd they’ve typically been over the last few years.
His contract runs through the end of this season, with an option for 2024, so safe to say, time is ticking on Hamdi’s tenure in Montréal, because if he doesn’t show anything by the end of the season, they’ll likely look elsewhere for a better option.
Best Bargain: Simon Becher
Typically, one way for MLS teams to find bargains? By promoting from within, as players who get called up from the second team often come in at a good price.
Simon Becher is a great example of that for the Vancouver Whitecaps, as the 2022 Super Draft pick quickly impressed for the side’s MLS Next Pro outfit last year, even scoring in an emergency call-up to the first team against Houston. Through that, he was able to earn a first-team contract last fall, as the club signed him through the end of 2023, with option years in 2024, 2025 and 2026.
So far, Becher has proven to be an excellent depth piece for Vancouver, too. In fact, he’s been a hidden gem for them, as he has six goals and two assists in 10 games in all competitions for the Whitecaps this year, all in just under 500 minutes.
Yup, you read that correctly - he has eight goal contributions in that few minutes, doing so on a ticket of just $70 485, which is the second-lowest on the team, just narrowly ahead of third-string goalkeeper Isaac Boehmer.
For a striker in good form, that’s immense value, as players who do that typically cost a lot (just ask Toronto FC!), which is why Becher is an easy shout for the team’s best bargain, although fellow former WFC II teammate, Ali Ahmed, is also a strong candidate given his play this season.
Worst deal: Sergio Córdova
Speaking of what it can typically cost to buy goals, the Whitecaps know that first-hand through Sergio Córdova. Signed at the beginning of this season to a Designated Player contract, he came in for a multi-million dollar fee, and is signed through 2025 with an option for 2026.
Despite having scored just 21 professional goals in his career across 166 games, that was the going rate given that he was coming from the Bundesliga, where he’d scored nine goals across 98 games in the top German circuit.
After having spent the 2022 season on loan in MLS with Real Salt Lake, where he scored 11 goals in 34 games across the regular season and playoffs, the Whitecaps liked what they saw, and decided to make the move to replace outgoing DP striker, Lucas Cavallini.
TRANSFER NEWS ✍️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) February 20, 2023
Whitecaps FC sign new DP striker Sergio Córdova, bringing on the Venezuelan international on a 3-year deal 💪
In exchange? #VWFC send 2024 1st-round pick + $300K GAM to Real Salt Lake 🤝
DETAILS 👉 https://t.co/fbcEynalQW pic.twitter.com/gd6VBetHB3
And so far, it’s been a less-than-ideal start to Córdova’s tenure with his new club. Having arrived late to preseason as both teams negotiated the transfer, he started the season slowly, and then picked up an injury.
He’s since recovered from that, but with Vancouver looking better with Brian White up front, and with Simon Becher scoring goals at his price, that has left Córdova third on the striker depth chart, despite being the Whitecaps' second-highest earner at $1 050 568.
It’s still very early, so there’s a chance that Córdova ends up coming good on his fee and price tag eventually once fully fit and healthy, but so far, it’s an uphill journey in that regard. Given the Whitecaps already had options up front, things are trending in the wrong direction, which is surprising given that they’ve done well to find a lot of bargains across their roster in recent seasons.
Best Bargain: Deandre Kerr
Toronto FC is spending a lot on strikers. In fact, the combined salaries of their main striker options, CJ Sapong, Adama Diomandé and Ayo Akinola come in at a hair just under $2 million. Despite that, those three combined have just one goal for TFC this season.
Therefore, it’s intriguing to see that when Deandre Kerr filled in at striker earlier this year, he was able to match that goal total, while providing a bit of a different look up front with his speed and ability to stretch defences.
First start, first goal of the year for Deandre Kerr, who scored this beauty in #TFCLive’s home opener today— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 12, 2023
Hopefully he can turn this into some form and a run of minutes, as he showed some good glimpses last year for TFC#CanMNTpic.twitter.com/zrRSYAkjCI
Typically a winger, he’s proven to be a versatile piece for TFC the past year and a half, playing up front, on the wing and even in midfield under Bob Bradley. All while chipping in from time to time in front of goal, as he also had three goals last season, the 20-year-old has proven to be a good pickup by TFC out of Syracuse, after he’d previously spent time in the TFC academy.
Considering that he’s a bottom-six earner on TFC at $90 763, he’s been worth every penny on his contract, something that not a lot of TFC players have been able to say recently, especially those in the attack.
Worst deal: Ayo Akinola
Speaking of underperforming attacking players, that leads to Ayo Akinola, who is now in his sixth season with Toronto FC.
Yet, after scoring 11 goals in 34 games across his first three seasons with the club, he’s got just seven in the 42 he’s played since.
It’s worth noting that he’s been very unfortunate with injuries, as he suffered an ACL injury in 2021, and also had myocarditis that same season. As a result, he’s been battling to get back to the form he showed in 2020, where his strong form with TFC made him a coveted commitment to the CanMNT, while making him a candidate to head to Europe.
Unfortunately for TFC, they rewarded Akinola with a lofty new contract in 2022, one that costs them $771 875 this year. It actually saves them against the cap, as he’s a U22 initiative player (meaning his actual budget charge is closer to $200 000), but in terms of actual money, it’s a hefty deal for a striker with zero goals in eight appearances in 2023 (although he has one assist in an appearance for the CanMNT).
On a team that is already throwing a lot of money elsewhere, one can only wonder what they could’ve done with that U22 initiative spot freed, along with Akinola’s salary, as a glimpse around MLS at other U22 initiative players can make one’s mouth water.
For a team that is very capped out and top-heavy in terms of their salary expenditures, a spot like that would’ve been immensely valuable, but instead, they’ll hope that Akinola can find that pre-injury form soon, as he’s signed through 2024 with an option for 2025.