Is Alejandro Bedoya "worth it?" Recent U.S. players' moves to MLS suggest so
When Alejandro Bedoya signed with the Philadelphia Union last week, the reaction to the financial details was wide-ranging. Some viewed the $1 million transfer fee and $1 million annual salary as a steal for a two-way player who has become a U.S. national team mainstay. Others thought Philadelphia (and, by extension, the league) had paid too much for a 29-year-old midfielder who hasn't been a prolific goal scorer during his career.
Such difference of opinion is usually an indication that the deal was fair, but it also made for an interesting comparison to other U.S. internationals who have come to MLS after spending considerable time in Europe.
Over the past three years, some of the biggest names on the U.S. national team have made precisely that move. Clint Dempsey opened the tap back in 2013 when he moved from Tottenham Hotspur to the Seattle Sounders. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard have since signed with MLS teams, as have others. Along the way, MLS has shelled out some hefty sums for these players either in transfer fees, salaries or both.
Back in 2013, the Dempsey deal involved a reported $9 million transfer fee, and while the salary numbers published by the MLS Players Union have some wiggle room, they do show that Dempsey has so far averaged over $5.2 million in annual compensation. Bradley has earned $6.5 million per year while garnering a transfer fee of $10m for his 2014 transfer from AS Roma.
Lately, the cost required to bring U.S. players to MLS seems to be lessening, though each deal has its own unique set of circumstances, and those moving parts impact any assessment of value both on and off the field. There's the age of the player and his position on the field, of course, as well as his off-field impact in terms of marketing, jersey sales and more. And does one consider just the player's salary cap hit of $457,500 for Designated Players, or the total cash outlay instead?
Out of the U.S. internationals to move to MLS in the past three years, Dempsey has provided the highest level of return. While the Sounders have failed to win an MLS Cup, they have claimed two trophies during his time there. And while reports surfaced that Dempsey had fallen out with now-former manager Sigi Schmid, the forward has done his part on the field, scoring 35 goals in 74 league and playoff appearances. He has also been at or near the top in terms of jersey sales for the past three seasons, thus adding to the club's bottom line.
A case can be made that Jones has provided good value as well, especially after seeing his salary reduced from $3.05m in 2015 to $650,000 this year. Though injuries have limited his playing time over nearly three MLS seasons, his presence on the field has proved immense; his teams have gone a combined 24-7-11 during that span.
Jones' Colorado teammate, Tim Howard, has been mostly impressive since arriving in July, but it's still too early to tell if he'll be able to justify his $2.57m salary. That said, his signing helped drive a three-year extension of Colorado's jersey sponsorship agreement with Transamerica.
Altidore, meanwhile, has yet to fully justify the cost of his 2015 transfer from Sunderland. Hamstring injuries have limited his time on the field, though he's actually logged more minutes over the last two seasons than Jones. The difference is that Jones arrived on a free transfer while Altidore cost around $10m in a cash-plus-swap deal for Jermain Defoe. That said, when he's been on the field, Altidore has been effective, tallying 15 goals in 37 appearances. His holdup play this year has been impressive as well. If Altidore can stay healthy, he may yet fulfill the high expectations that accompanied his move.
Bradley's value might be the toughest to quantify. Toronto FC have without question been better since his arrival, though Sebastian Giovinco's presence has been a bigger factor. Bradley has also been more effective since adopting more of a deep-lying role earlier this year. But is $6.5m per year really what should be spent on a holding midfielder?
The amount seems steep, though timing did play a part in the outlay; MLS had to overpay in order to entice him and Dempsey to return to North America. If TFC can make a deep playoff run with Bradley orchestrating things from deep, it's doubtful any Toronto fans will begrudge him for his salary.
That still leaves Dempsey atop the "value-meter" of returning U.S. internationals, yet there is an unheralded player, relatively speaking, who is challenging his position: New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan.
When the former Anderlecht midfielder arrived prior to the 2015 campaign, he was looked upon as nothing more than a solid addition, even as his national team prospects evaporated. But Kljestan is in the midst of his second straight impressive season with the Red Bulls, with his five goals and a league-leading 13 assists seeing him creep into MVP conversations. Such performances stand in stark contrast to another midfielder playing in New York, NYC FC's Mix Diskerud, whose career looks to be in limbo due in no small part to his annual salary of just over $750,000.
While Kljestan's transfer fee to Anderlecht remains undisclosed, his salary is costing the Red Bulls a relatively modest $687,500 per year. That counts as a fine bit of business by GM Ali Curtis.
As for Bedoya, it remains to be seen precisely what role he'll play in manager Jim Curtin's lineup. But Union fans will gladly take anything approaching Kljestan's numbers. If that's the case, there will be no argument as to whether Bedoya has been worth the money.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.